Tensions between a widowed mother and her eldest daughter arise when the latter gives up eating due to potentially unnatural forces in this feature film debut from Ruth Paxton
An aversion to other people eating is a common human ick, and if you haven’t experienced it before, you certainly will while watching Ruth Paxton’s supernatural drama A Banquet. A grieving family are tested after their traumatic loss when the eldest daughter, Betsey (Jessica Alexander), finds herself transformed into an apocalyptic prophet – one who is unable to eat anything. Dinner table tension, as well as the sounds of cutlery and mastication, are dialled up to the max as doubt and disbelief fracture the family, making the troubled mother Holly (Sienna Guillory) confront what she’s willing to believe (or indulge) in order to remain whole.
Paxton and writer Justin Bull’s choice to keep the supernatural muted is admirable, especially for a film so fascinated with the effects of denying pain and the crossover between prophecy and psychosis. Problems arise when you feel like the “higher power” elements are being sidestepped due to a lack of confidence in how to handle them. When those elements are tackled head-on, the scenes are devoid of the necessary context and detail to make it gripping.
A Banquet remains so watchable because of the tense dynamics between the female characters, including a scene-stealing Lindsay Duncan, who proves that all families should have an icy-cold grandmother spouting Japanese folklore when things start getting out of hand. As something impossible becomes undeniable, all the relationships shift in a compelling, if occasionally stilted way. But A Banquet’s real obstacle is the ambiguities of its metaphor on an emotionally fraught situation.
A Banquet screened at Glasgow Film Festival, and is out now via Signature Entertainment