A Banquet is an atmospheric family horror that had promise. It is beautifully dark and touches on many powerful themes. But lack of synergy between the themes and an uninspired ending left me hungry rather than satisfied. 

Holly (Sienna Guillory) is trying desperately to keep her family together while processing her terminally ill husband’s suicide. Things are no easier for Betsey (Jessica Alexander) as she relives witnessing her father’s suicide. She is struggling in school and isolating herself from her support system. Things take an even darker turn after Betsey is lured into a forest by mysterious whispers. When she returns from the party, Betsey begins to experience nausea and refuses to eat food of any kind, all while not gaining any weight. Amid this lack of weight gain, Betsey reveals that she believes her body is serving a “greater purpose,” introducing the idea that there may be something more sinister and mysterious afoot. 

Family horror is always perfect for producing tense atmospheric films. There is always a tragedy the family is trying to move through and amid that healing process comes a new hot trauma to captivate onlooking audiences. A Banquet starts off as a pretty textbook family horror. As the family works through the father’s suicide, new (and arguably greater) issues arise. Themes of anxiety, trauma, possession, family, mother-daughter relationships, hysteria, and faith are all introduced. Individually all of these themes are interesting and add a unique layer to the film. However, writer Justin Bull and director Ruth Paxton may have bitten off more than she could chew trying to tie it all together.

A Banquet is atmospheric, but it lacks that essential emotional peak required to maintain interest and satisfy. Because of this, it was difficult to connect with and empathize with the characters. Alexander and Guillory shine in their respective roles, and the entire cast offers strong support, but the storyline prevents the performances from leaving a lasting impact.

Despite some shortcomings, A Banquet had some very compelling aspects. I found the stage design to be particularly appealing. The house itself was mysterious, dark, and confusing, which acted as a beautiful visual parallel to the familial situation unfolding in the home. A second-story entrance, and first-floor kitchen. The confusing home and Betsey’s mysterious situation were also amplified by the impressive sound design. 

I was not fond of the constant switching of point of view. I understand the artistic choice of jumping from character to character, but this quick shift in perspective causes a jarring of the emotional momentum being built up by each character, making the execution of the aforementioned themes quite difficult. 

So many possible explanations for Betsey’s aversion to food are introduced: the obvious sadness over her dad’s death reducing her appetite, a possible mental illness, mysterious religious blessing, or even something more sinister. All are explored and many are dismissed. But the film fails to adequately explain/satisfy what exactly happened to Betsey and thus dampens the potential impact the final moments could have had. 

At least the first half had plenty of intrigue to offer. As the story unfolds, there is an undying tension that lingers that something sinister is afoot or something disastrous is about to happen. Betsey’s developing aversion to food is masterfully paired with constant shots of mouths doing what months do… eating, kissing, and even being cleaned. Hats off to writer Justin Bull and director Paxton for that piece of cinematic brilliance. 

A Banquet has a lot of redeeming qualities. The thematic choices are interesting and in some ways, many will find them relatable. But this recipe for success had too many ingredients thrown into the mixture and the result was less a banquet and more an unsatisfying sampling. 

 

5 out of 10

 

A Banquet
RATING: UR
Runtime: 1hr. 37 Mins.
Directed By:
Written By:

 

 

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