Heavy on atmosphere and deeply unsettling, occasionally stomach-churning Shudder horror film A Banquet tensely explores family relationships and grief. A gruesome opening first has Sienna Guillory’s Holly looking after her dying husband, then his grisly, self-induced death, witnessed by her daughter Betsey (Jessica Alexander). What follows is gripping, dreamlike and disconcerting.
Holly’s other daughter – Isabelle, played by Ruby Stokes – seems unaffected by the tragedy, having not witnessed it. In a cold, modernist house, they make food together, until Betsey leaves a party after snorting some ‘fake’ cocaine and sees a blood moon. She wanders into a forest and has a ‘religious’ experience. She stops eating and remains at nine stone for months, believing she is offering up her body for a higher purpose. She babbles about the end of the world and the beauty that will come after the horror.
All the women in the household are forced to examine what they are, what they have become and their roles in life, through an atmosphere of dread and foreboding. Like another recent British horror film with a strong female force, Rose Glass’ Saint Maud, director Ruth Paxton keeps Justin Bull’s script on the right side of believability. Events are ambiguous and intriguing, offering up reasoning for Betsey’s increasingly erratic and worrying behaviour: grief, madness, anorexia, conformity, even a Japanese demon. Lindsay Duncan adds gravitas as Holly’s forbidding icy mother, whose treatment of Betsey may have set in motion a chain of chaotic events. Men are mostly absent or ineffectual in their world.
A Banquet is expertly shot, blending wide screen beauty with closeup grossness. Guillory’s fashion seems to be making a futurist statement and the central enigma at the heart of the film resonates long afterwards. Not an easy watch, but a gripping one.
Dir: Ruth Paxton (15, 97 mins)
Streaming on Shudder from Mon 23 May
words KEIRON SELF
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