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  Banquet, A Calamity All Round
Year: 2021
Director: Ruth Paxton
Stars: Sienna Guillory, Jessica Alexander, Ruby Stokes, Lindsay Duncan, Kaine Zajaz, Richard Keep, Deka Walmsley, Rina Mahoney, Jonathan Nyati, Walter Van Dyk, Andrew Steele, Adam Abbou, Finn Bennett, Dylan Clout, Selena Thompson
Genre: Horror, Drama, Science FictionBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Holly (Sienna Guillory) suffered a loss recently. Her husband was terminally ill and she was his carer, but as the pain grew worse and worse he felt he could not go on, and while she was out of the room preparing a protein shake, he drank bleach and collapsed and died in a pool of his own bloody vomit. To make matters worse, their eldest daughter Betsey (Jessica Alexander) witnessed this happen: she never mentions it, but it must have had an effect on her. But as she prepares to move on from school and possibly into higher education, a curious apathy overtakes her and she starts to wonder what could fulfil her. With no real answer, she begins to drift through life until a miracle occurs one night - or is it a curse?

A kind of cross between Todd Haynes' Safe and The Exorcist, only without an exorcist character or indeed an exorcism, A Banquet was the debut feature from director Ruth Paxton after a number of shorts and a bit of Scottish television soap. On this evidence, she was able to sustain a very tricky narrative that kept you guessing, and any issues with the way it was resolved stemmed from the screenplay by Justin Bull, who concocted a real conundrum that raised all sorts of questions, but did not quite wrap it up satisfyingly. Something more concrete and less ambiguous might have been preferable, though it was accurate to observe there was already plenty of ambiguity inherent in the plotline, so it may be the correct choice for some audiences.

Not everyone likes an open ending, however, and one that may be a dream - as pre-empted by a nightmare sequence earlier in the action - could be regarded as a bit of a cheat. However, look at the rest of it and you would find a work that was on the science fiction spectrum, tinged with horror (more than tinged in places), and also a weird domestic drama built around a diagnosis of apparently untreatable illness, here a form of eating disorder. The tyranny of having someone ill in the home, be that mentally or physically, is a subject tackled by horror fiction fairly often, seeing someone you know and love become, if not a monster, exactly, then demanding to a degree that becomes a burden, both on the afflicted and those around them, though it affects everyone in different ways. As teenage mental health had become a growing crisis in the twenty-first century, this felt timely.

And, as Holly demonstrates, it's not only teenagers who get struck down by mental disorders, as her past with her trauma to do with her husband has obviously been brewing, so Betsey's troubles come at a very bad time for her, especially when we see latterly she has bought into what may be her daughter's delusions. Yet are they delusions? After a joke at a party is played on her, Betsey stumbles out into the forest and has an epiphany as she witnesses a blood red full moon overhead: is this her own trauma getting the better of her, the pressure to take responsibility for herself, or (and we're never very sure about this) is there a cosmic being trying to take her soul under the guise of saving it? That latter may be too farfetched for many viewers, therefore they will gravitate to Lindsay Duncan as the no-nonsense Gran, a scene-stealing performance of rationality that, we realise, has no place in this insular world of Holly and Betsey, and, to an extent, the other daughter Isabelle (Ruby Stokes) who is just too normal for all this. It was always going to disappoint a section of the audience, but for the most part, highly impressive for what it was considering. Music by CJ Mirra.

[A Banquet - A Shudder Exclusive
New Film Premieres 26th May 2022.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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