Horror and folklore have always gone hand-in-bloodied-hand. People trying to make sense of a confusing, chaotic natural world with darkly whimsical tales was one of the earliest forms of storytelling, and the ancient traditions of Celtic folklore in particular are what director Lee Haven Jones and writer Roger Williams mine in The Feast, their feature debut. Like The Wicker Man, or more recent efforts like Men, this intense little film takes an idyllic pastoral setting and contrasts it against a spot of violent eco-horror, making a quiet but fierce warning about disrupting the natural order.
It takes its time getting there, though. The first hour is languid and almost laborious, establishing a curious mood via static camerawork and some foreboding tranquillity. We are somewhere in the Welsh countryside, at the palatial country pad of a local politician hosting a slap-up meal in order to offer up some land for oil-drilling rights. The house is hardly in keeping with the local aesthetic — all floor-to-ceiling glass and Scandinavian modernism — and there’s an element of class tension in how obnoxiously it sits in a working-class community.
The dysfunctional ensemble that occupies this house includes a slick-talking MP (Julian Lewis Jones), who may be keeping a few secrets to himself; his highly strung wife (Nia Roberts), whose attention to detail is paramount (“Do you know how much effort goes into making a pavlova?” she mutters at one point); and their two sons (Steffan Cennydd and Sion Alun Davies), a drug addict and an obsessive triathlete respectively.
The denouement is bloody, leading to a final act that's hardly subtle, but satisfyingly wild, swerving suddenly into the fast lane.
And then there’s Cadi, a local girl from the village hired to help out with the meal, and performed by Annes Elwy with a fantastically hypnotic oddness. It’s evident immediately that something is not right with her; exactly what is not revealed until the very end.
Performed entirely in the Welsh language — which gives the effect, subtly, of connecting the story with its Celtic traditions — it is not entirely clear where it’s going at first. Some eye-catching imagery — Cadi voyeuristically watches a naked man shave his pubes, and there is a jaw-dropping moment involving broken glass in an intimate space — gives you a good hint. If the viewing experience can sometimes be frustrating, cards held too close to the chest at times, the flashes of visual flourish are enough to maintain interest.
Naturally, the denouement is bloody, all leading to a final act that is hardly subtle, but satisfyingly wild, swerving suddenly into the fast lane. If it might be too strange or eccentric for some viewers, there is a clear-minded understanding of the themes at hand here, and an ancient tradition being tapped into: respect the natural order, or you’ll ruin your supper.