A rumble of thunder “A Banquet”, the whir of a blender, a sputtering cough, the patter of rain.
Director Ruth Paxton places you on edge from the start in “A Banquet,” and holds that unsettling temper all through. However, as a result of the sound design being so vivid and Paxton’s eye for disturbing elements is so inventive, it’s much more irritating than the payoff is so unsatisfying.
The Scottish filmmaker’s debut function is an intimate piece of psychological horror, full of easy but highly effective jolts. Nevertheless, it feels unfocused because it juggles themes of grief, isolation, adolescence, and physique points. And as soon as we notice what’s actually occurring right here—and the way literal the revelations are—it’s finally a little bit of a letdown.
Paxton will get dedicated performances from her predominantly feminine forged, although, led by a steely Sienna Guillory. She stars as Holly, the just lately widowed mom of two teenage ladies. Betsey (Jessica Alexander) is a senior in high school with no college plans and no nice ardor pushing her in any route. Her youthful sister, Isabelle (Ruby Stokes), is equally uninspired, and may barely muster the keenness for her common ice skating classes. (Having a number of scenes happen at a cold, almost empty rink supplies a pure feeling of unease.) All of them nonetheless dwell within the household’s cavernous, minimalist home, however, they barely work together.
Their quiet detachment will get shaken up, although, when Betsey attends a celebration along with her classmates and sorta-boyfriend, Dominic (Kaine Zajaz). While standing alone on the patio smoking a cigarette, she feels a driver beckoning her into the woods below a blood-red moon. From that time on, she’s remodeled: pushed by a newfound goal wherein her physique is a vessel for some vaguely cataclysmic future occasion. And a part of this drastic change is a refusal to eat. Paxton cranks up the quantity on mundane, mealtime duties to intensify the sense of dread, whether or not it’s grinding pepper over a chunk of avocado toast or scraping peas off a plate. She additionally favors excessive close-ups of mouths, tongues, and eyeballs, turning fundamental facial options into alien creatures.
Consuming issues are all too widespread in fairly, privileged younger girls like Betsey, a proven fact that Holly perceptively factors out in a second of anger. Her uncooked nerves turn into visceral; she’s held it collectively for this lengthy, and now her teenager is pushing her to the sting of snapping, which Guillory reveals in refined, steadily constructing methods. However there’s one thing else occurring right here apart from the standard mother-daughter friction, and the curiosity about what that one thing else could be in Justin Bull’s script retains us hanging on, at the very least for some time. From nightmarish physique horror that’ll make you squirm to plain exorcism imagery you’ve seen earlier than, the chances abound, luring us down numerous narrative avenues and attempting to maintain us guessing. However, moderately than providing purple herrings to perpetuate the thriller of Betsey’s transformation, it nearly feels as if Paxton and Bull have been casting about, throwing numerous theories towards a wall to see what would stick.
The arrival of the good Lindsay Duncan works wonders to enliven this story when it threatens to stagnate. She performs Holly’s mum, June—at first, a supply of hysteria over the telephone, and ultimately the no-nonsense voice of cause nobody desires to listen to. Duncan conveys a lot with the penetrating stillness of her blue-eyed gaze. One notably gripping scene between June and Betsey adjustments all the things we predict we find out about these characters and the household as a complete. And but, that is one other instance of the unfulfilled promise that prevails all through “A Banquet.”
No matter what we’re imagining the deal is in our minds might be way more fascinating than what it finally ends up being. Leaving issues deliberately ambiguous really would have been offered a much more highly effective conclusion. However there’s sufficient voice and craft at play right here to make you hungry for no matter what Paxton would possibly serve up subsequent.
Now enjoying in theaters and out there on digital platforms.