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SXSW 2021 REVIEW: ‘The Feast’ is Not Comfort Food

The Feast
Credit: IFC Midnight

The Feast, the new film from director Lee Haven Jones, is not here to comfort you. In fact, it is here to warn you. Once the film peels away its deceptive container it is revealed to be an entry into that storied sub-genre of folk horror. It is here as a warning from the past, from the nature we so willfully left behind.

The story’s pacing most closely resembles a lullaby, swaying us back and forth slowly and calmly through most of the running time. This lullaby though is meant to ensure nightmares once that sleep does come. The structure of the film also defies the three act structure that makes viewers so comfortable. In fact, this film does nothing to comfort the viewer, from pacing, to structure, to performances, everything is uncanny enough to keep us on on edge.

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It begins with a quiet, and somehow menacing woman, arriving as the help for an upcoming dinner party thrown at the home of a member of parliament and his family. Through that afore mentioned narrative swaying, in this case through slow, quiet, lingering scenes throughout the running time, we learn this part is more of a sales pitch. And what they are selling is something that should have just been left alone. 

There are horror films that are fast-paced and tense. The kind of film that never really let the audience breath, leaving them to figuratively grasp the edge of their seat until the credits roll. 

The Feast is the opposite of that. We are left to linger in scenes. We aren’t let out of the discomfort, out of the menacing feeling that something is creeping around the corner at all times. The filmmakers embrace pregnant pauses between dialogue, strange lingering stares, and characters dwelling in those in-between moments that usually happen off camera. 

This approach is mainly so affective because of the performances on display here. Mainly, but not exclusively, the performance of Annes Elwy. Her deep facial expressions and reactions, all with very little dialogue, communicate so much of the dread found in this film.

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The underlying, incredible thing about the film, though, is that for ninety-percent of the film nothing happens outside of a family preparing for guests. It is a slow, meandering narrative of the rich preparing to entertain other rich people. That’s it. Nothing tangible that feels like a threat, just a day in the life of the bourgeois. But it is threatening.

Partly through the aforementioned performances, and partly through the relatively fractured structure of the film, nothing in this story feels comforting or normal. There is no three act structure, more of a five act story of vignettes, there is nothing for us to feel grounded upon. 

Then there is the ending.

The ending is so traditionally folk horror it is shocking. Shocking mostly because of the film that played before. No blatant foreshadowing, though there is some subtly sprinkled throughout, and no real indication of the monster or menacing folklore that will come for the guests. In fact, the folklore is only mentioned in a few lines of opaque dialogue. As an audience, we don’t know the legend, and we don’t really need to. The consequence is clear, and familiar. 

In the end, The Feast is about the arrogance of humanity and the intentional disassociation with the nature that created and nurtured them for so long; which obviously comes with unwanted consequences.

The Feast is not a comforting movie, or even a comfortable movie. It is intentionally stilted, awkward, and slow. The Feast, however is an affective movie that will leave most squirming in their seats and beyond. 

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