There are several good reasons for watching The Feast, aka Gwledd, and one of the least important is that it’s a horror movie in Welsh, more often seen as a lyrical bardic language of song and poetry rather than blood and dismemberment.
But Welsh horror it is, and director Lee Haven Jones gets off to a moody start with some Kubrick-esque glides down the long corridors of the remote modernist house where the action is set. It’s the weekend home to smug Member of Parliament Gwyn (Julian Lewis Jones), his vinegary wife Glenda (Nia Roberts) and his two troubled sons. Gweirydd (Sion Alun Davies) is the more obviously nuts, a fanatical cyclist who likes to touch himself while looking at his reflection in the mirror. But the sullen Guto (Steffan Cennydd) also has his problems, and that axe he’s carrying around with him when he’s first introduced is possibly trying to tell us that something’s coming down the track.
That something actually turns out to be a young woman called Cadi (Annes Elwy), who’s been hired in because the family’s more usual helper isn’t available, and there’s a big meal to be cooked, to which locals Euros (Rhodri Meilir) and Mair (Lisa Palfrey) have been invited. Euros is something of a local fixer and has made Gwyn and Glenda a lot of money through his connections to a drilling consortium. Mair owns the adjoining piece of land. There is much for Glenda and Cadi to do before they Euros and Mair turn up.
To the Kubrick-esque glides, writer Roger Williams adds some of the metropolitan v local dynamic of Mark Jenkin’s Bait. But whereas in Bait the fancy metropolitans were pretty well matched in awfulness by the surly locals, in The Feast it’s more of a one-way street. Cadi has never seen papaya before. Bok choy. Pomegranates. Mangoes. This is more a token of her authenticity than her backwardness. There’s no way Glenda could have sourced exotic stuff like this locally. She’s had it delivered.
Not that Cadi seems over-impressed when Glenda gives her a taste. But then Cadi doesn’t react much to anything, says barely a word and tends to stand around almost inert and saucer-eyed in her black skirt and white top. She can sing, though, and breaks into an old folk tune at one point, before the silence resumes. The suggestion is there from early on that there’s something other about Cadi. Something mythical, maybe, and the bruised beauty of Annes Elwy’s fascinating face suits this role very well.
This is a movie that starts creepy and stays creepy, even when it shifts from dealing in suspense to something more visceral (spoilers ahoy). There are totemic suggestions from the very beginning that something bad is coming down the pipe – like the fact that everyone has a little accident at the moment they are introduced – plus odd confounding scenes, like when Cadi reaches down and takes a shard of glass from a broken bottle (Euros’s accident) and inserts it in her vagina.
As with Welsh TV shows, like Hinterland, there’s a touch of Nordic Noir in here, a fascination with the domestic and a liking for strong women and weak men unaware of how good they’ve got it. When the going gets ugly, and it does eventually, suddenly Cadi’s long dark hair and impassive features are also strongly reminiscent of that young woman in Miike Takashi’s Audition, the one extracting deadly payback with a syringe.
It’s a two thirds/one third sort of film, with everything suddenly snapping into focus at the one hour mark, when Euros and Mair are finally sitting at the table eating a tasty dinner with all the G’s – Gwyn, Glenda, Gweirydd, Guto – Cadi serving them, and the real purpose of the evening, and the invitations to Euros and Mair in particular, becomes clear.
You can leave at this point if you want, but then you’d miss the almost feverish descent into the bloodfeast, and the revelation about who Cadi is. Really, they seem to be arrivals from a different movie altogether but there is an “all is explained” aspect to the gush of horror that’s unleashed and by this point, as in the best horror films, it’s actually quite hard to look away, much as you want to.
The Feast aka Gwledd – Watch it/buy it at Amazon
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© Steve Morrissey 2022