The Movie Waffler New to Shudder - A BANQUET | The Movie Waffler

New to Shudder - A BANQUET

a banquet review
A teenage girl displays strange symptoms after seeing a blood moon.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Ruth Paxton

Starring: Sienna Guillory, Jessica Alexander, Ruby Stokes, Kaine Zajaz, Lindsay Duncan

a banquet poster

We now know a blood moon is simply a phenomenon caused by a total lunar eclipse, but throughout history the sight of a crimson moon was considered a portent of impending disaster by many cultures. "The sun will turn into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes," reads the Book of Joel, warning of the coming end times. Later in the Bible, a blood moon pops up in Revelations, where it is written, "The sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood."

When European colonists discovered the truth behind a blood moon, they used the phenomenon to scare native populations into subservience. Christopher Columbus is said to have used his knowledge of a coming eclipse to convince the natives of what is now Jamaica that he was in communication with God. With his 1977 film The Last Wave, Peter Weir flipped this idea on its head, with Australian aborigines having knowledge of an impending catastrophe unknown to white people, save for Richard Chamberlain's protagonist, who finds himself sharing their prophecy through dreams. With his 2011 film Take Shelter, director Jeff Nichols gave us something of an unofficial remake of Weir's film, sans the colonial commentary.

a banquet review

Director Ruth Paxton's feature debut, A Banquet, is a further distillation of Weir's film, setting its narrative almost exclusively within the walls of a middle class British suburban home. It takes us back to the idea of a blood moon as an apocalyptic portent, with teenager Betsey (Jessica Alexander) stumbling across such a sight in the night sky when she wanders off from a party. Betsey seems to be the only witness to the phenomenon however, and in the days after begins displaying curious symptoms.

Much to the chagrin of her stressed out, widowed mother Holly (Sienna Guillory), Betsey refuses to eat. Holly passes it off as anorexia, while Betsey's grandmother (Lindsay Duncan) accuses the teen of simply seeking attention. What they can't explain is how Betsey sheds no weight. She's weighed twice a day, with the same result of nine stone returned each time. Betsey's condition evolves into random catatonic blackouts in which she begins speaking about an impending, ambiguous catastrophe. At times she has manic spasms, as though possessed by a demon.

a banquet review

Paxton's film plays like an amalgamation of various previous movies. There's a lot of The Exorcist, and you imagine that were this not set among the secular residents of modern middle class Britain, a priest would no doubt be called in at some point. The Last Wave and Take Shelter are obvious touchstones, but there's also something of Jeff Nichols' Midnight Special, as Holly begins to realise she may be the parent to a child with special, ethereal powers. The clinical surrounds the film plays out among, coupled with its female focus, are reminiscent of Todd Haynes' Safe. There's even a moment that wouldn't be out of place in James Wan's recent schlockfest Malignant.

As such, A Banquet feels all too familiar. It's undecided whether Betsey or Holly is the film's main focus, and both come off as under-served, particularly the latter, whose grief over her husband's death (detailed in a prologue) is never quite explored as much as you might expect. Guillory is very good here, channeling a performance somewhere between Tilda Swinton and Mia Farrow, yet there's something unsympathetic about Holly, and it's difficult to figure out why that should be the case. We should have sympathy for everything she's enduring, but there's an unexplored sinister side to Holly, as though Guillory's performance contains remnants of an excised subplot from an earlier script draft.

a banquet review

With its slowburn, ambiguous storytelling, focus on trauma and icy aesthetic, A Banquet is ready made to be designated the latest example of "elevated horror." I'm not sure it actually elevates anything though. There's nothing here we haven't seen explored in more depth, and with more atmosphere, in the many films it appears to be drawing inspiration from.

A Banquet
 is on Shudder UK now.

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