Movies: The Feast (aka Gwledd) (2021)

Although I can think of several horror films that are set in Wales, helmed by Welsh directors, or were filmed there (such as A Dark Song, Saint Maud, and Censor, all of which I’ve reviewed at one point or another), I can’t remember if I’ve ever seen a horror movie that was filmed entirely in the Welsh language. And that’s coming from someone who has had cause to see a lot more Welsh-language content than your average American (since I was married to a Welsh man a long time ago and used to go back and forth to South Wales pretty frequently from the mid-1990s to the late 2000s). So I was intrigued to check out the 2021 movie The Feast (known in Welsh as Gwledd), the debut feature from director Lee Haven Jones, which got some positive buzz back when it premiered at the South by Southwest film festival.

The Feast—a sort of slow-burn, slightly folkloric, eat-the-rich fantasy that goes full-on grossout body horror in the third act—is a strange journey, and definitely not for all tastes. It was a tad too ponderous in the first forty-five minutes or so, but although it tried my patience a couple of times, I found that I couldn’t really look away as the events unfolded at their ominous, languid pace. In its themes and cinematography, it gave me a little bit of a Parasite vibe, but minus the black humor.

Here’s the setup: we have a wealthy London family of mostly insufferable assholes who are hosting a small dinner party at their boxy, modern vacation home in the beautiful Welsh countryside. There’s blowhard alkie dad Gwyn, a corrupt Member of Parliament who goes out of his way to repeatedly tell everyone that he shot the rabbits they’re having for dinner, even though he actually found them dead. There’s vain, class-conscious mom Glenda, who inherited the farmland the house now sits on from her parents and made boatloads of cash selling off parcels of it to a mining company for drilling. There’s creeper son Gweirydd, a pale weirdo who shaves his balls, wears unitards, frequently rubs his hands all over himself in front of a mirror, and is taking a sabbatical from his medical practice in order to train for a triathlon. Then there’s other son Guto, a rebellious musician who was forced from his beloved big city life out here to the country to recover from a drug addiction. Guto is actually the most sympathetic out of this unpleasant lot, as he seems to be the only one with anything resembling a conscience or a sense of empathy with others, and he hates the rest of his family seemingly as much as the viewer is meant to. Also, in his defense, if this was my family, I would be taking all the drugs too.

Anyway, into this stew of simmering familial tension comes Cadi, a mysterious young woman who is supposedly arriving at the house in order to assist Glenda in setting up the dinner party. Apparently, the girl that Glenda usually hired wasn’t available, so Cadi came recommended as a backup. From the beginning, though, it’s clear there’s something off-kilter, and possibly even malevolent, about Cadi. She barely speaks, her hair is perpetually wet or greasy, her hands always seem to have dirt on them, and she spends a lot of her time staring intently at members of the family, or spacing out when she’s supposed to be working. Also, when no one is looking, she creeps through the house, spying on people, trying on their earrings and cackling, shit like that. It’s a bit unnerving, to say the least.

The only time Cadi acts normal at all is when Glenda comes into the kitchen and overhears her singing an old folk song while she’s making the canapés. Glenda is enchanted, remembering the song from her childhood, and she and Cadi both sing together and laugh for a moment. That’s pretty much the last time Cadi will do anything that’s isn’t remotely weird, though.

The dinner guests begin to arrive. First up is slick Euros, a total clod who shows up to the party wicked early, drops the bottle of wine he brought, and will seemingly stuff his face with any food within reach. This is a none-too-subtle metaphor, it turns out, because Euros is less a friend of the family, and more a business broker who helped them sell off their lands to the mining companies; in other words, the greedy businessman who consumes everything he touches.

There are only two other guests invited, and only one of them shows up. This is dowdy farm woman Mair, who rents the adjoining property from the main family. It’s revealed later that Mair and her husband have farmed the land for decades, and that Mair and Glenda grew up together out here.

Mair’s husband was supposed to attend as well, but Mair tells the family that there was an accident in which a car is having to be dragged from the lake nearby, and the husband is helping out by letting the authorities use his tractor. He’ll be along later, Mair says.

Glenda gives Mair the grand tour of the house, very impressed with her own wealth and taste, it seems, but simple Mair thinks the place is cold and forbidding, in particular comparing Glenda’s spa-like retreat room to a prison cell. It’s clear that Mair is troubled by the grasping, haughty harpy her childhood friend has become.

As the story goes on, we learn that the sole point of this dinner party was, in essence, to convince Mair and her husband to allow the mining companies access to drill in their farmlands as well. Mair is horrified, claiming that the land has been in their families for generations, that the farm makes them a sufficient living, and that she would rather carry on the way she has been, vis-à-vis not raping the land in order to make a few extra bucks to purchase some rather dire modern art like the atrocity that hangs in the dining room where most of the action takes place.

While all of this tomfoolery is going on, Cadi is lurking in the background, discreetly vomiting into a dish of cooked rabbit, going outside to writhe around in the dirt, and inserting a piece of a broken wine bottle into her squish mitten in order to spring a trap for later. It becomes pretty obvious as things start to get nastier and more maggoty toward the finale that Cadi might not be human at all, but perhaps the embodiment of a folkloric nature spirit said to protect the land in these parts.

As I mentioned, this is a pretty slow burn, and it’s up to you whether the disgusting bloodbath at the end was worth the wait. To a large extent, I personally think it was; the characters are all weird enough to hold your attention throughout the unhurried first two acts. The cinematography is gorgeous, contrasting the bucolic, rolling Welsh hills against the stark, empty, and soulless interiors of the house, with its gray brick walls and large glass windows that look out upon the beauty of nature while still keeping it at one remove. The “nature’s revenge” theme of the piece isn’t exactly subtle, but the message doesn’t overwhelm the narrative. While the movie isn’t scary per se, it is disquieting and eerie in places, and some of the body horror stuff at the end is satisfyingly gross. Plus it’s refreshing to finally see an entirely Welsh horror film; it’s something of a novelty, so it’s almost worth watching just for that.

Until next time, keep it creepy, my friends.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s