The Feast is the year’s best ecological horror film, its simmering atmosphere gradually reaching full boil by way of a truly haywire climax that will remind audiences of folk-horror freakouts like Midsommar as much as twist-laden dinner-party thrillers like The Invitation.
Out this week in theaters and on VOD, The Feast marks a particularly auspicious feature debut by director Lee Haven Jones, whose elegantly austere craftsmanship elevates the Welsh-language film into something unusually fulfilling: a supremely ominous mood piece that eventually bites back at its audience with a ferocity all the more shocking for its previous slow-burn style.
It’s exceedingly rare to see a feature film in the Welsh language, making The Feast something of a novelty for horror fans. “It certainly does contribute to the oddness of the piece,” Jones tells Inverse, speaking by Zoom.
But the director never considered filming The Feast in English — in part because he and writer Roger Williams are both native Welsh speakers who wanted to see their culture represented on screen. “For me, it was rooted in the idea of wanting to make a film that was singularly Welsh,” says Jones. “Our culture’s incredibly rich in terms of myths and legends.”
In this allegorical folk tale, an affluent family — patriarch Gwyn (Julian Lewis Jones), mother Glenda (Nia Roberts), and sons Guto (Steffan Cennydd) and Gweirydd (Sion Alun Davies) — gathers for dinner at their lavish estate in the Welsh mountains, with two guests — business associate Euros (Rhodri Meilir) and neighboring farmer Mair (Lisa Palfrey) — set to join them at the table. There, Euros plans to convince Mair to sign a contract with him, allowing his company to mine in the countryside.
That evening, a mysterious young woman — Cadi (Annes Elwy) — materializes at the gates to serve as their waiter. Cadi’s quietly unnerving presence suggests otherworldly forces at work. As dinner draws near, the family begins to fracture in strange and disturbing ways that abstractly mirror the violence they’ve inflicted on the surrounding landscape.
“I talk about directing being about creating contrasts,” Jones tells Inverse. The filmmaker especially focused on juxtaposing the unnaturally sterile silences of the family’s home with the lively, crackling sounds of nature outside.
While establishing the film’s ominous soundscape, which includes both deafening tinnitus-like dissonance and hushed folk songs, Jones spoke about creating “layers of silence” within the house, trusting his sound designer to achieve that effect. For the outside world, he kept returning to a quote from Shakespeare’s The Tempest: “Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises, Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight, and hurt not. Ready to drop upon me; that, when I waked, I cried to dream again.”
Even the film’s color palette — black and white contrasted with a mutable green — was designed to heighten the film’s sense of contrast. The black and white represent the family and is worked through the design of their house, which features black-brick exteriors and gleaming white interiors. Meanwhile, “the pops of green are like nature, taking over this edifice that has been built as a bastion of civilization,” says Jones.
The Feast’s gorgeous house, explained
With the exception of a brief prologue and epilogue, The Feast takes place entirely at one luxuriant modernist retreat.
“In the script, as I read it originally, there was this rather magnificent house as a sign of wealth, fundamentally,” recalls Jones. “But it seemed to me that the house should also be a metaphor for the strained relationships that occur within the piece.”
All members of the family served dinner by Cadi in The Feast are concealing their own vices and perversions, from patriarch Gwyn’s alcoholism to triathlete son Gweirydd’s testosterone-fueled aggression. Accordingly, Jones wanted their headquarters to be charged with a certain latent menace. “It’s an expression of this family in many different ways, in terms of the opulent wealth, the strangeness, the oddness, and the oppression of their life,” he says. “One image I kept on going back to is a hermetically sealed box.”
With its floor-to-ceiling windows and spotless exteriors, The Feast’s modernist bunker feels alternately like a sanctuary, a prison, and a fishbowl. Its occupants get a scenic view of the countryside but are on full display themselves to anyone — or anything — that might look in. “It reminds me, in terms of its shape, of a spaceship that’s landed,” says Jones. “It's very definitely at odds with the landscape.”
Though shooting an indie horror with limited resources, Jones trawled distinctive homes in Wales, in hopes of finding a house that could play host to this story. Near-immediately, he came across Tŷ Bywyd, a black-brick house set against the rolling green hills outside a small Welsh town called Llanbister. “It was just one of those good-fortune moments where the filmmaking gods were smiling on us,” he recalls.
The Feast isn’t the only recent horror film to make use of Tŷ Bywyd. In David Koepp’s You Should Have Left, Kevin Bacon and Amanda Seyfried played a young couple who vacation at a remote house in the countryside, with that production also filming in and around the Welsh estate.
A luxury retreat built to evoke profound feelings of calm and contemplation, Tŷ Bywyd is the work of architect John Pawson, who was heavily influenced by Japanese design and the architecture of Benedictine monks. Pawson collaborated with philosopher Alain de Botton across five years to construct Tŷ Bywyd. Its name, in English, translates to “Life House,” a particularly inspired contrast with The Feast’s blood-soaked finale.
“I find that [name] to be incredibly fitting and darkly ironic, given what happens in that house,” says Jones. “It's a place of torture and death and destruction. The house is definitely a character in the piece.”
The Feast’s Cadi, explained
When Cadi first appears before the family, her hair is wet and her eyes are clouded over, as she’s walking in a dreamlike daze. As she assists Glenda in preparing the titular feast, dirt stains spread across both the tablecloth and her blouse, as if the earth is flowing from her into the family’s pristine sanctuary.
Cadi acts in unsettling ways throughout The Feast, humming the same folk song Glenda’s mother used to sing to her, which suggests she’s more deeply rooted in the local folklore than initial appearances would suggest. At one point, she retches into the rabbit being prepared for supper, and thick strands of her hair appear in the first course, nearly causing one of the sons to choke. (It’s worth noting that Gwyn had earlier found these two rabbits hanging from a snare, already dead, and did not shoot them with his shotgun as he so boastfully claims.)
Once Gwyn makes a pass at Cadi, his ears begin to ring so loudly he’s doubled over in pain. And perhaps her gnarliest trick is saved for the lecherous Gweirydd, who eagerly reciprocates a sexual advance from Cadi after harassing her all night, unaware she’s “pocketed” glass shards from a bottle of Gwyn’s Cabernet Sauvignon somewhere such objects certainly don’t belong.
Though Williams never specifies which regionally specific folk tales are being channeled by his script, contributing to the film’s enigmatic and dread-steeped nature, Jones explains that Cadi was written as a “synthesis” of various figures from Welsh mythology.
Primarily, her story reflects that of Blodeuwedd, who was made of flowers by two magicians in order to help their protégé, Lleu Llaw Gyffes, who’d been cursed by his mother, Arianrhod, never to take a human wife. “This wizard harnessed the forces of nature and put her in a body of flesh and blood,” explains Jones. “But, of course, Blodeuwedd was very frustrated by that, and therefore decided to get her revenge. The character of Blodeuwedd is very definitely in the DNA of Cadi.”
Mair, when confronted by Euros’ interest in her land, rejects the businessman’s offer while warning Glenda about “The Rise,” a sacred burial site that is not to be disturbed. Gwyn and Glenda discount Mair’s warnings as local legends meant to ward off children — a mistake, given the deep folkloric roots of the surrounding land. It’s possible that the film’s opening, in which a worker at a mechanical drill suddenly begins to bleed from the ears after disrupting something within the earth, depicts mankind’s initial intrusion upon The Rise, given that Cadi later unleashes the same decibel on Gwyn.
Later in The Feast, long after its central meal has devolved into bloodshed, more clues are dropped as to Cadi’s identity. Mair showed up to dinner alone, as her husband was delayed partaking in a rescue effort to retrieve a car that veered off the road and into a nearby lake. When she comes to Glenda with a revelation — it was Cadi’s car that went off the road — we’re left to understand that the woman with the wet hair who first showed up to help the family with their feast was not the help they hired but rather a mythical spirit inhabiting her body.
The Feast’s final shot, explained
After The Feast shifts from chilly foreboding into grand guignol horror in its third act, the film dispatches the majority of the characters in memorably gruesome ways, with Cadi eventually walking away from the house, with her task completed.
In The Feast’s final shot, Cadi is seen back at the drill site where a worker perished in the movie’s opening moments. Covered in blood and visibly fatigued, Cadi suddenly turns to the camera, breaking the fourth wall for the first time. Rather than glowing with triumph as one might expect after successfully slaughtering the family that depleted her land’s resources, Cadi’s expression is forlorn, anguished. Her face continues to fall as The Feast cuts to black.
“The final moment with Cadi breaking the fourth wall was an idea that occurred to us on set as we were filming it,” explains Jones. “And, fortunately, Annes is such a brilliant actress that I think we only did one take of it, actually.”
Though Cadi has been revealed as the architect of the family’s destruction, Jones believes audiences will still be on her side by the film’s conclusion — and feel personally targeted by her cold stare, with its implication that the audience, too, has participated in ravaging natural resources.
“A whole gamut of emotions runs over her face,” he says. “Some people say, ‘How can I sympathize with her?’ But in that final moment, as she stares deep into the lens, and therefore deep into our souls, we see the true cost of what she's had to do to this family on her. And we feel the impact of their actions upon her as well. It's cost her dearly.”
Those searching for more clear-cut answers to Cadi’s anguish should consider the sixth “chapter” interstitial: “after you’ve taken everything, what will be left?” Though Cadi has achieved some measure of revenge against those who exploited the land’s natural resources, its mineral deposits have been ransacked, and no act of violence will undo that damage.
The Feast’s unused original ending, explained
Jones originally had another ending in mind for The Feast, which was still in Williams’ script when production commenced:
“There was a scene in the script at the end, in which another workman turned up and found a pile of clothes, Cadi’s clothes, on the floor. He investigated these and was puzzled by these and then Cadi appeared behind him, and that was the end of the film.”
But Jones says he was “never comfortable” with this ending, which he felt strayed too far into conventional horror territory for a movie that had resisted doing so up to that point. “It seemed to me that we were just leaning into the horror there, in order to satisfy the horror fiends — which is not a bad thing, and the film does kind of go there,” he says. “But it was really important to me that we made a film that actually had something to say.”
In channeling our anxieties around wealth disparity and ecological devastation, Jones hopes The Feast will offer audiences food for thought. “That was very definitely our intention,” says the filmmaker.
“It does demand a lot of an audience,” he acknowledges. But Jones has delivered the film he set out to make. The filmmaker says he hopes audiences will give The Feast time to marinate — and perhaps even consider coming back for a second serving.
“It's a richer experience the second time around, and you see even more the third time around,” he teases. “You know, I’m on view #1050, or something. And even I'm seeing stuff in it that has taken on a life of its own.”
The Feast is now in theaters and on VOD.