The Feast (Gwledd) first published by Sight & Sound, September 2022
Review: Over plain opening credits, birdsong and the bleating of sheep can be heard, sonically conjuring a rural idyll, before being interrupted first by the sound of a car arriving and then by the noise of a much louder motor. The source of that noise is the film’s first image – a roaring, squealing drill set up in the middle of an otherwise Edenic field and boring right into the ground. A man who we infer is the drill’s operator – shot at a low angle from behind, as though from the perspective of the earth itself – staggers into shot before collapsing, his face visibly bloodied, and then the film’s title, The Feast (or Gwledd in the original Welsh), appears on screen. This prologue establishes a pattern that is programmatic for all that follows: those who encroach upon and violate the land will be met with mysterious acts of nature’s revenge.
Lee Haven Jones’ feature unfolds over one day and night, in and around a house near that accident – and in keeping with this Aristotelian unity of time and place, it is a tragedy in which a deeply dysfunctional dynasty is brought down by its own hubris (and a local legend). After inheriting this entire estate from her late mother, Glenda (Nia Roberts) has had the the traditional farmhouse of her childhood replaced with a modernist home where, when not in London, she lives with her MP husband Gwyn (Julian Lewis Jones) and their young adult sons – the triathlete-in-training Gweirydd (Sion Alun Davies) and drug-addicted musician Guto (Stefan Cennydd). The new house is not the only change that they have brought to the environment. For they have ditched the family’s agricultural business, sold off some of the property, and found a new way to exploit what remains, licensing an international consortium to explore the land for mining opportunities. With a promising seam detected underground near the adjacent property, the consortium’s representative Euros (Rhodri Meilir) has asked Gwyn and Glenda to arrange a dinner party where he can be introduced to their neighbours Mair (Lisa Palfrey) and Iori, and hopefully persuade them to provide access to their own land for profit.
With the usual hired help in the kitchen unavailable, local waitress Cadi (Annes Elwy) is sent in her place. It is a perilous environment for a pretty woman. Already mired in scandal and an obvious sex pest, Gweirydd is extremely creepy around Cadi, while the literally predatory Gwyn – first seen in the film hunting rabbits with a shotgun, not that he is as successful as he boasts – also has a wandering eye for the young stranger. Everyone in this family is dressing up in a guise of normalcy and trying, to varying degrees, to “make a good impression” (as Glenda puts it) on their guests. Yet faced with the family’s arrogance, entitlement and inner tensions, Cadi comes wearing her own mask, and with her own secrets just waiting to be unearthed. Saying very little but humming folk songs to herself as she observes everything, Cadi is strange – and her uncanny little behaviours, unnoticed by the others, leave their grubby mark on the house’s otherwise clean, minimalist surfaces. Nature cannot be kept permanently at a distance.
Mounted on the wall of the dining room where the exotic three-course banquet takes place there is a large painting. With its odd geometries and bright splashes of colour, it looks like abstract art, but as Glenda points out to Mair, far from being the non-figurative expression of ‘love’ or ‘hope’ that some of her guests discern, it is in fact an accurate map of the district, commissioned at great cost as an ostentatious emblem of the family’s domain and affluence. For this clan of four – ominously the same number as the rabbits in the “family of little bastards” that Gwyn claims to have blasted earlier – sees the land around them merely as something to own, aestheticise and exploit, rather than as a living, breathing ecosystem with its own history and myth.
The Feast’s very language reinforces this sense of local tradition. While some Welsh was spoken in John Fawcett’s The Dark (2005) and William McGregor’s Gwen (2018), The Feast is unique in serving up its genre entirely in Cymraeg. Teaming up again with writer/producer Roger Williams after their collaboration on Galesa (2015), director Jones crafts folk horror which, like the family’s polysemic painting, offers a feast for the eyes while accommodating more than one interpretation. For this is all at once environmental fable, anti-colonialist allegory, and Hanekean portrait of a family undone by its own errant appetites and all-consuming greed.
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Synopsis: Wealthy Gwyn and Glenda hold a dinner party in their rural Welsh home with sons Gweirydd and Guto and business partner Euros, hoping to persuade neighbour Mair to allow exploratory mining to extend onto her farm. Not who she appears to be, hired help Cadi uncannily punishes their environmental transgressions.
strap: Lee Haven Jones’ folk horror is all at once environmental fable, anti-colonialist allegory and Hanekean portrait of a doomed family