Filmhounds Magazine

All things film – In print and online

A Banquet (Film Review)

2 min read

Shudder

Ruth Paxton's first directorial feature is a visually captivating and narratively confused venture into a lesser-explored topic within the genre. Teetering on the edge of a commentary on eating disorders and the stigma surrounding them. The film draws upon an overwhelming sense of dread from its outset that builds to a climactic ending reminiscent of fellow British female-directed horror success Saint Maud (2019).

A Banquet follows a wealthy family hit by the sudden loss of their father, who graphically dies at the start of the film letting the audience know just what they are in for. This leaves the family's matriarch Holly () as a widow and sole carer of her two teenage daughters. Her values and beliefs are tested when her teenage daughter Betsey () decides to stop eating at the urge of an unexplained supernatural power, yet never seems to lose weight. Betsey insists her body is a vessel to a higher power, believing she knows when the world is going to end and encourages her family to accept their fate as she has hers. Her apocalyptic knowledge manifests into an overwhelming concoction of Exorcist-like fits, communicating with voices and refusing to eat even a single pea on her plate at the dinner table. What Paxton gets right is the painful atmosphere of a family in turmoil, as each night at dinner, Betsey sits with her mother and sister with not a single piece of food on her plate.

Whilst the film relies heavily on cringe-inducing close-ups of the strange food Holly makes for her family and ethereal wide shots of a blood-red mood looming over an isolated woods, its tropes are what encourage the audience to feel drawn into its uncomfortable nature. Paxton's feature successfully stresses and sickens the viewer upon watching (perhaps even to the point of not eating for a few hours after), yet loses its impact with it's difficulty in drawing upon the heart of the narrative – Holly. Holly's shifting views and late-in-life radicalisation is an intriguing concept that results in emotional breakdowns and a sudden urge to pray. Yet her character's complexities are lost amongst a possessed Betsey, heartless grandma June (Lindsay Duncan) and heartbroken sister Isabelle (Ruby Stokes). Holly's harmful comments on anorexia weave into scenes of the daughters attending high-school parties, opening up the possibility for the film to comment on the pressures of teenage life, leaving the narrative straddling too many character arcs at once.

Shudder

Although A Banquet hits on some exciting narrative complexities that help you to retain your engagement throughout its duration, the lack of answers in its final act leaves the viewer wanting more. Perhaps it's the film's ambitious story that lets it down, yet stellar cinematography and horror-infused sound make A Banquet an intense watch that lingers on your mind after the screen fades to black, even with some questions left unanswered.

A Banquet is available now on Limited Edition Blu-ray from Second Sight.