REVIEW: The Feast Serves Up Anti-Colonial Welsh Folk Horror

Annes Elwy plays a strange maid who arrives at a Welsh home in The Feast. She is in a fog-filled woods, crouched on lush green grass, looking up at something off-camera.

Folk horror often examines tension between the “modern” and the “premodern,” the latter represented by folklore, witchcraft, and superstition which threaten the “modern” protagonist. Many folk horror flicks, like the classic The Wicker Man and the more recent The Witch, use this dynamic to critique modernity, traditionally defined by western white men and used to justify the oppression and Othering of marginalised people. Lee Haven Jones’s The Feast follows in this vein, wrapping a scathing critique of colonial capitalism in creeping folkloric dread, an unsettling soundtrack, and a healthy dose of body horror.

The Feast

Lee Haven Jones (director), Bjørn Ståle Bratberg (cinematographer), Kevin Jones (editor), Roger Williams (writer)
Anne Elwy, Nia Roberts, Julian Lewis Jones, Steffan Cennydd, Sion Alun Davies, Lisa Palfrey, Rhodri Meilir (cast)
November 19, 2021

Theatrical poster of The Feast (2021, directed by Lee Haven Jones) featuring Annes Elwy as Cadi, a white woman with long brown hair wearing a simple white gown. She sits at a table dressed for a dinner party and she stares at the camera with a blank expression. The table is draped with vines and tree roots, and the plates on the table are laden with carcasses and rotting fruit.

The Feast follows a wealthy, middle-class Welsh family and their replacement maid, Cadi (Annes Elwy), as they prepare for an important dinner party. The film opens with violence and grime, overlaid with intense, screeching audio that establishes The Feast’s slow burn suspense and disturbing sonic punctuations. As we’re introduced to the family and their home, the camera lingers on each shot of the extravagant house and the gorgeous, sprawling countryside it overlooks. The modern house is built with natural materials, all wood and stone, carefully separated from the wild fields by huge windows. It emulates nature while meticulously protecting its privileged inhabitants from the world outside.

Cadi arrives to replace the family’s usual maid and immediately, we understand that something is off about her. Her hair is greasy and she moves uncomfortably in her maid’s uniform. She seems to be unfamiliar with the role and unused to tending to rich families—she’s intrigued by the family members and their various self-absorbed interests (or obsessions) and she’s fascinated by the house itself, its claustrophobic hallways and smooth surfaces. As the film progresses, the audience’s suspicions of imminent violence are confirmed slowly, piece by piece, until we’re only waiting to see its final, full form. It’s entrancing and tense, with Elwy providing a captivating performance as Cadi. Even when Cadi is at her most outlandish or ominous, Elwy never gives too much away, right up until the end of the film.

The Feast also features impressive performances from the rest of the main cast, as the unlikeable but (unfortunately) super believable family, led by Glenda (Nia Roberts), a farmer’s daughter turned politician’s wife. Glenda is snobby about food, dismayed by her ageing skin, and boasts that the house’s architect used locally-sourced materials—except when that would have compromised the build quality, naturally. Sion Alun Davies delivers an incredibly creepy performance as eldest son, Gweirydd, who caresses his body while wearing a cycling singlet and masturbates in the mirror. Gweirydd, training for a triathlon, practises on a cycling machine outside his bedroom window, tethering himself to materialism even while among nature. Angsty youngest son, Guto (Steffan Cennydd), rails against his family and struggles with addiction. Guto is the most sympathetic family member but he doesn’t reckon with his privilege even as he criticises his family for their own vanities and vices. Glenda’s husband, local MP Gwyn (Julian Lewis Jones), brags about killing the rabbits for dinner, presenting himself as tied to the land despite spending most of the year with his family in London.

These characters don’t express any self-awareness about the harm they cause to the land, the wildlife, to others, or, in the case of Guto and, later, Glenda, to themselves. Cadi feels intense terror and disgust at their actions, and the full weight of their destructive behaviours is conveyed to the audience through moments of body horror, uncomfortably tactile close-ups of food, and a disconcerting soundtrack. We hear intimate squelches from fruit and meat, the ripping of rabbit pelts, and knives chopping on a board or hacking through gristle. Over the course of the film, each character faces a comeuppance that reflects their preferred method of destruction. As the film reaches its climax, Bjørn Ståle Bratberg’s stunning cinematography becomes increasingly ethereal and disorienting, with foggy shots of the woods lit by pink and turquoise neon, and rapid, violent montages. As the situation escalates for the family, ghostly choral voices join harsh, high-pitched whines on the soundtrack.

The Feast highlights the destruction of its characters to tell an environmentalist cautionary tale that pulls no punches. Crucially, the film understands the ways that environmental (in)justice is bound up with colonial capitalism. Wales has a long history of colonisation by the English and the establishment of Welsh as an official language has played an important role in reinstating Welsh identities and sovereignty. However, access to Welsh language schools is often limited to middle-class and rural families, resulting in a class division between Welsh and non-Welsh speakers. Class is a major theme in The Feast; in particular, we learn that Glenda has benefited from class mobility, having grown up on a farm. She is sentimental about the folk songs and practices of her youth but, nonetheless, she prioritises materialism, status, and wealth. In fact, most of the family highlight their links to Wales and the land: they speak almost entirely in Welsh, Gwyn hunts and (supposedly) represents the interests of local constituents, and Glenda speaks proudly about sourcing (mostly) local food and building materials. But none of them are truly connected to the land any more. They spend most of their time in London, the colonial metropole, and their house is a second home, an issue that continues to result in both rural and urban gentrification in Wales, trickling down to disproportionately impact communities of colour in cities like Cardiff. The family’s success and comfort relies on the exploitation and destruction of the surrounding countryside—and of working-class and marginalised people both local and further afield. This is colonialism, it’s just coming from inside the house.

It’s a message salient not just for Wales, where activists continue to fight against gentrification and for climate justice, but for the entire western world. White supremacist capitalism relies upon the violent exploitation of land and marginalised people, from settler colonial states like the USA and Canada to colonial hubs like England. Towards the end of The Feast, this message feels a little heavy-handed and clunky, in stark contrast to the rest of the film, but perhaps it’s only appropriate, given the urgency of climate collapse. There are a few points in the film, too, where the anti-colonial message could be read as nativist; at one point, Glenda offers Cadi a piece of papaya, one of the dinner’s imported components. Cadi’s excited to try it but doesn’t like the taste, screwing her face up and spitting it out in disgust. It’s a subtle critique of the environmental cost of importing goods which, in this case, are unnecessary, a lavish expense for the sake of a selfish dinner party. However, it could also suggest that only local produce “belongs,” that Welsh people should only eat Welsh food, placing strict boundaries around what it means to be Welsh, despite long-standing legacies of solidarity with climate justice collectives across the global south and Cardiff being home to one of the oldest Black populations in the UK.

The Feast is a riveting folk horror that delivers creeping terror and disturbing body horror alongside a devastating class and colonial critique. It’s a captivating film that unravels slowly, constructing an unsettling environmentalist folk tale deeply rooted in Welsh history, tradition, and ongoing postcolonial identity formation, but one that’s relevant to everyone living and resisting under white supremacist capitalism.

Zainabb Hull

Zainabb Hull

Zainabb Hull is a disabled, queer, and brown freelance writer and sort-of artist. You can find them screaming about screens and raging against colonialism on Twitter at @ZainabbHull.

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