Director: Ruth Paxton
Writer: Justin Bull
Starring: Sienna Guillory, Jessica Alexander, Ruby Stokes, Lindsay Duncan
In A Banquet Sienna Guillory stars as Holly, a recently widowed woman who is raising her two children, Betsey (Jessica Alexander) and Isabelle (Ruby Stokes), while avoiding calls from her overbearing mother, June (Lindsay Duncan). It’s a story about grief and mental illness, that’s big on atmosphere but really struggles to keep your attention.
The film opens with a strong and visceral scene with Holly looking after her ill husband, before he commits suicide. The scene focuses on the mundane of Holly cleaning a chair, while her husband is sitting on the bed coughing up everything. The sounds of the cleaning mixing in with his illness. It’s an uncomfortable and unsettling opening that may make people want to stop watching there and then. It instantly sets up an atmosphere that makes you feel like this is going to be hard hitting, and while the shock of his death works really well, the film does nothing to keep that momentum going.
Throughout the film there are moments that come close to the almost body horror opening, with lots of close ups of food, that really make you not want to eat again. The food horror doesn’t feel completely unhinged to make you really feel scared, it just leaves you a little unsettled. The atmosphere the film creates is really great, it’s just the story behind it doesn’t really match it.
Holly’s eldest daughter, Betsey, goes to a party where some friends trick her, and she walks out into the woods and has an existential crisis. Following that she feels nauseous around food and stops eating and also experiences moments where she can’t control her body. Holly becomes worried about what’s happening to her daughter and is worried that it’s psychological, while Betsey believes she’s become enlightened and no longer needs to eat. The film then walks the line between whether Betsey’s experience is real or in her mind, with visits to doctors and a psychiatric hospital.
While the visuals and atmosphere created in the film are great, the story is incredibly slow paced. It has you hooked with the first scene, but it then just drags on for another ninety minutes until it’s over with a very underwhelming ending. It’s an interesting premise, but really not entertaining to watch.
A Banquet is available on Shudder today – 23rd May 2022
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