A Banquet (2022) is Metaphorical Horror That May Not Be to Your Taste
Title: A Banquet
First Non-Festival Release: February 17, 2022 (Limited Theatrical Release)
Director: Ruth Paxton
Writer: Justin Bull
Runtime: 97 Minutes
Starring: Sienna Guillory, Jessica Alexander, Ruby Stokes
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
When her daughter returns from a drunken night out, Holly (Sienna Guillory) brushes off Betsey’s (Jessica Alexander) feelings of unwellness to partying too hard. Unable to eat anything the morning after and at dinner, Holly decides to take her to the doctor. It stumps Holly to learn that nothing is physically wrong with Betsey and later on Betsey confides in her that she believes it is her obligation to abstain from eating. Even more shocking, she is maintaining her weight despite not eating for months. Holly begins to believe that Betsey’s mania surrounding her so-called special purpose in life, to serve an unnamed entity, may actually be true.
Well-made yet limp metaphorical horror leaves viewers hungry despite its intriguing premise in A Banquet.
Slow-burn, psychological horror dramas with clear symbolism often get maligned and unfairly compared to stronger contemporary films. A Banquet fits the bill and truthfully the criticisms do match up here. It cannot be overstated that A Banquet is a competently made film with strong performances. Its detractions come solely from its execution. Using an eating disorder to highlight the failings of a fractured family is a great springboard for horror. Anorexia is treated seriously in the film and the real life horrors of its effects on the sufferer and their loved ones is portrayed beautifully.
The point of A Banquet, however, veers away from its premise though. Instead of highlighting those initial horrors, A Banquet explores the mother-daughter dynamic between Betsey and Holly. Holly’s own past trauma with her mother’s decision to send her away when her mental health deteriorated informed her of how she needed to proceed with Betsey. By her side every step of the way, and faltering only in her methods, Holly wanted to prove that she wouldn’t fail Betsey as her icy mother did her. This breeds an insidious co-dependency between the two, where it is not only possible that Betsey will consume her mother in her poisonous thinking but that it is inevitable.
Leads Sienna Guillory and Jessica Alexander give credible, nuanced, and grounded performances as the contentious duo. Guillory is center stage for most of the film, as she has the task of caring for her daughter through confusing circumstances. The heartache and grief Holly experiences is portrayed beautifully by Guillory who pulls no punches when delivering the full spectrum of emotions of someone going through something impossible. When Alexander gets to spiral in her mania, she shines as a headstrong teenager who “just knows” everything. Her desire for a higher purpose and commitment to this life is equal parts haunting and devastating.
Sleekly filmed, A Banquet achieves a high level of production value within in its minimalism. Using a variety of close-up shots of food in the beginning, the film tapers on as Betsey’s starvation persists. The shots show almost a sinister and nauseating aspect of food, one that many of those with unhealthy relationships with eating can instantly recognize. The spartan set and modern aesthetic makes it clear to complement these sort of stylistic restraints against the overall idea of restriction and control.
What brings A Banquet down more than anything is its refusal to move faster than inch-by-inch pacing. Its static pacing and reliance on more unsettling horrors, make it difficult for the audience to truly respond to the horrific things happening to this family. The unexplainable cosmic horror of it all doesn’t help, as it lacks explanation in addition to action. The choice isn’t inherently bad, but for a film that talks so much about the unimaginable things that will happen, it opts for a non-ending that leaves the viewers hanging in the worst way.
Presenting plenty of interesting ideas, A Banquet succeeds in crafting an unsettling horror drama that feeds on the deepest fears of parenthood. While its more visible metaphors of eating disorders are prominently displayed, a wickedly cruel narrative on co-dependency weaves underneath the tale, adding an extra layer to the horror. Despite its glut of interesting ideas, marvelous sound and set design, and solid lead performances, its deliberate pacing becomes the death of this British import. For those seeking a quiet and disturbing tale of familial horror, A Banquet might be the meal for you, otherwise it may be beneficial to skip out if you expect anything too visceral.
Overall Score? 5.5/10