Signature Entertainment presents A Banquet in Cinemas and on Digital March 11th.
The self-conscious battle with the body is arguably enough of a horror story in itself. Particularly shaping the teenage years, outward projections of shallow identity remain the focal point that keeps the world turning. Confronting such insecurities head-on, A Banquet is a masterclass in sensory anticipation, yet too often strays into the realms of horror for horror’s sake.
After a disillusioned appearance at a house party, Betsey (Jessica Alexander) refuses to eat—troubling her widowed mother, Holly (Sienna Guillory). Claiming to be overcome by an unknown supernatural entity, Betsey’s behaviour becomes increasingly erratic, threatening to drive her family apart. As grandmother June (Lindsay Duncan) insinuates that Holly is enabling the chaos, the lines of collective past, present, and future blur into one.
READ MORE: SHAPELESS
At first glance, there are a considerable number of themes at play throughout A Banquet’s narrative, from relationships to food, family tensions, supernatural dynamics, grief and outright gore. Yet even with such a variety of content, the film fails to hold onto a driving force. Set in a middle-class family with upper-class decoration, it’s challenging to find a tangible sense of grounding within the family framework. However, Betsey’s British Euphoria-ism of teenagehood is perfectly executed, drawing us into demonic horrors that even she is yet to figure out. But despite an intriguing balance of firm and distant, Sienna Guillory is less convincing as an emotional confidante— with a distinct lack of maternal warmth and believability to the pair’s relationship.
As the nature of Betsey’s possession demands further scrutiny, Lindsay Duncan’s June pulls borderline absurdity back from the brink. Here she holds the action to account while delivering much-needed context; Duncan’s exemplary hold on her craft speaks for itself. However, when she isn’t present, action can feel slightly misplaced. While much of A Banquet’s content strays towards eating disorder territory, comments concerning those suffering from anorexia often feel (at best) misjudged. Here the overall skew of the family into a realm of middle class that’s wholly unrelatable disengages the grounded realism needed to explore supernatural horror.
READ MORE: THE RIGHTEOUS
While the demonic plague looming over A Banquet remains vague and largely unexplained, the beauty of its being lies in its sensory experience. Crisp cinematography relays sizzling bacon like a Nigella Lawson special on BBC2, echoing and anchoring the importance of family dinners. As Betsey refuses food, the grating sound design perpetuates the unsettling visceral noise that soundtracks subservient action. There’s continued emphasis on invading the body throughout, which works well as both a narrative theme and a point of audience intrigue.
When the guts and gore boil down to A Banquet at its core, the fulfilling substance mainly comes in the form of effects. Despite an arguably unnecessary appearance of classic horror moments (the opening demise of Betsey’s dad bears little relation to anything else), intricately sparse visuals make the convoluted narrative sing. Tropes are sometimes leaned into thematically—such as the traditional horror film house party—mixed with relatively mundane teenage details that hold little in the way of surprise. The parallels of chaos and calm are fleeting but work exceptionally well when they hold firm.
READ MORE: GLASSHOUSE
Under a blood moon of little significance, A Banquet struggles to gain purchase. With moments of outstanding acting and deliciously compelling cinematography, the narrative structure is far-fetched while not reaching far enough. Slow and drawn out, the audience finds itself bathing in a myriad of detail accented by nauseatingly graphic gore. A visual feast to dine on, A Banquet is indeed enjoyable but warrants greater depths of explanation.
A Banquet is a masterclass in sensory anticipation, yet too often strays into the realms of horror for horror’s sake.