The Movie Waffler Interview - THE FEAST Director Lee Haven Jones and Star Annes Elwy | The Movie Waffler

Interview - THE FEAST Director Lee Haven Jones and Star Annes Elwy

Interview - THE FEAST Director Lee Haven Jones and Star Annes Elwy
We spoke with the director and star of the Welsh horror movie.

Interview by Benjamin Poole

"We want to reclaim the horror genre for Wales!"

In the run up to its imminent wide release, we had a lovely chat with Lee Haven Jones (director) and Annes Elwy (main actor) about their horror film Gwledd (The Feast). Gwledd is a character driven horror which focuses on a wealthy household in rural Wales preparing for a dinner party. A strange young woman (Cadi, played by Elwy) turns up as the hired help for the evening and things inexorably begin to take a turn for the gruelling...

I really enjoyed Gwledd not only for its intense and unsettling genre thrills, but also, as someone who lives in Wales, for its especially Welsh flavour and rich references to our folklore.

the feast poster

Hello Lee and Annes! After such a prolonged production history you must be thrilled that Gwledd is finally coming out, and to such a wide release, too! Could you summarise Gwledd and talk a little about its journey from page to screen, please?

Lee: That’s a big question! Gwledd is a Welsh language eco-folk-revenge horror, which was inspired by our passion for both horror and Wales. Part of the intention with the film is to challenge international assumptions about Wales. We wanted to make something which felt distinct, which didn’t feel like ‘English horror’. I drew from different cinematic cultures, from directors like Haneke and Lanthimos for inspiration, but also I wanted to create something Brechtian too, in order to make a point. The Welsh element is about being true to yourself and your people. When history was taught in Welsh schools, for a long time it was just English history that was taught. Now, we are teaching our own history and retelling our own stories. Wales is what the film is truly about.

As for the genesis of the film, I’d worked with Roger Williams, the screenwriter of Gwledd, in television before, and we wanted to make a feature film. S4C (Wales’ dedicated Welsh language channel) offered to finance the film, along with a couple of other sources. We shot and edited Gwledd in 2019, after an 18 day shoot. What was really important to us was that Gwledd wasn’t sold direct to streaming services.

I’m really pleased Gwledd is out in mainstream chains like Showcase and Cineworld - it really deserves to find an audience that way. Regarding what you were saying about the national identity of the film, the sensation of a particularly Welsh folk horror is especially strong in Gwledd. I went to an Arthur Machen (Welsh author and mystic of the early 20th century, known for his influential supernatural, fantasy, and horror fiction) exhibition yesterday, and I was reminded about our rich cultural mythology. There’s The Mabinogion, too. And even walking the dogs in the forests of Caerphilly mountain it’s like you can feel this weird energy in the air! How far did you tap into this cultural tradition?

Annes: The mythology of Wales is very important to Gwledd. Cadi is based on Blodeuwedd (a major character in the Mabinogion: a woman made of flowers). You can see that when she’s lying in the ivy. She comes from the soil. There’s also a sense of drawing from the culture we grew up in, of drawing from local folklore...

Lee: We were interested in Arthur Machen. People forget that he is Welsh! You have this Welshman who was such an influence on Stephen King, H.P. Lovecraft, Guillermo Del Toro... I was discussing this with Roger when we were making Gwledd... you get the sense that Americans think they own the horror genre. We should reclaim the genre for Wales!

Speaking of horror audiences there is a tendency for fans to overexcite when it comes to women in horror, and to especially cherish female roles. The genre has these specific appellations: Scream Queen, Final Girl, and often readings/portrayals can be loaded. I’m interested in how audiences have responded to Cadi, and how you, Annes, view the genre.

Annes: Cadi is not a victim or a villain in the typical sense. We don’t know what she is at the start. She is unusual and unknowable, and the reason why audiences feel uneasy and wrong footed from the opening.

Absolutely. There is a real sense of dread throughout the start of the film, and it’s generated by Cadi and her quiet menace.

Annes: But she is a character in a horror film. In Gwledd the main characters are essentially two women (Cadi and the matriarch, played by the ace Nia Roberts), who are not the usual type of women we are used to in horror. So, the approach I took wasn’t typical to the genre. Cadi is her own thing, she stands on her own two feet.

Interview - THE FEAST Director Lee Haven Jones and Star Annes Elwy

In a way, Cadi is the only character who seems to want something... The others seem to be unhappily going through the motions of this privileged but claustrophobic existence. These rich people living off the land for their own ends...

Lee: Yes, and the only time we see any character relaxed is with Cadi in the final shot, in that look to camera, where she dwells upon what she’s done.

I remember you saying in the Q&A after the Bafta screening that the final shot wasn’t initially going to be the one we have, and that there was extra stuff filmed. I’m glad that we do ultimately end on that haunting ambiguity.

Lee: We wanted to end on something far more left field than conventional horror. There was an extra scene planned and filmed, but I knew after seeing Annes’ performance, which was only the fourth take, that we wouldn’t be using that extra footage. At times, filming can almost seem like a mystical process, you have to be like a magnet and capture the moment. Nothing is ever set in stone.

Annes: On Gwledd every take could be a rehearsal; who knew how it would come out?

You were tapping into that Welsh pagan energy! The approach works in the film - there is certainly a freshness and sense of spontaneity. On the topic of pagan energy, in Gwledd there is an urgent sexuality in almost every frame: a character is revealed to be a rapist, there is the pointed symbolism of the opening scene where we see the land being drilled for oil (as you said Lee, ‘being brutalised’), and, of course, there is the soon-to-be notorious ‘glass shard’ scene. Is this an accurate reading? How important is sex to Gwledd?

Lee: It amazes and intrigues me how different audiences see different things in the film. I’m fascinated by it. I can’t say that it [the sexual theme] was done with intent, but it is absolutely all there. Or maybe it’s just you seeing it!

It probably is!

Annes: There is certainly something primal in the film. There are images of gluttony, and everyone is excessive. It’s a very physical film. You can see that with Cadi, who is very sensual and herself primal.

Lee: Yes, and things spill over. I’m interested by people’s different readings of the film, and how the audience are engaged and involved. Film is its own act of creation and Gwledd is taking on a life of its own.

Okay, so last question. I always ask this one. If you were going to programme Gwledd as part of a triple bill, which other films would you put alongside it.

Lee: Good question! Maybe Carrie? I mean, there is a little bit of Carrie White in Cadi... For the hell of it, Censor. That’s another Welsh directed film. The female lead goes bad in that film, too...

Or does she? [Lee and I spin off about Censor for a good few minutes].

Annes: There’s a local cinema which is showing Gwledd alongside Censor and also Saint Maud.

Lee: That would work well. Morfydd Clark (lead in Saint Maud) is Welsh, too.

Perhaps the genre is being reclaimed! Thank you so much for you time, both. I sincerely hope that Gwledd finds the audience it deserves. Pob lwc!

The Feast (Gwledd) is in UK/ROI cinemas from August 19th.