Directed by Ruth Paxton and written by Justin Bull, widowed mother Holly is radically tested when her teenage daughter Betsey experiences a profound enlightenment and insists that her body is no longer her own, but in service to a higher power. Starring: Sienna Guillory, Jessica Alexander, Ruby Stokes, Lindsay Duncan and Kaine Zajaz.
Recent years have taught us that the future of horror is female, with films like Relic, Censor and Titane, women are pushing the boundaries and to put it simply, creating some messed up films that are both satisfying and disturbing to watch. Ruth Paxton’s A Banquet fits in nicely among them, visually it walks that beautiful line between having an intensely dark atmosphere but a brilliantly colourful, sharp aesthetic. There’s a superb, almost painting-esque, clarity to the visual. It effortlessly builds an eery air, there’s an interesting isolation and coldness to it, leaning into the story’s otherworldly implications.
However, where the direction is breaking expectations, the story feels as though it hints to a larger potential but never quite explores it. While there is a great amount of tension, suspense and a building suspicion, it tends to explain itself in a brief and fairly last minute manner. It only vaguely touches upon the enlightenment Betsey (Alexander) is experiencing, it barely goes into where it’s coming from or where it’s going, apart from in its final scenes. It’s a shame not to see it pull more layers and detail into the story to draw you in further. For instance, as with a lot of stories like this there’s the potential of her just flat out lying and the story doesn’t really play that into the tone, when it easily could have been another strength. There’s also the relationship with her sister Isabelle (Stokes) which has a lot to add but doesn’t get a lot of screentime, the same goes for the difficult relationship between the mother (Guillory) and grandmother (Duncan).
On top of that, there’s hints of a more physical horror but it’s very sporadic, throughout the entire film, it’s hinting at reaching that full potential but holds back and keeps things on a simpler field. While Sienna Guillory and Jessica Alexander take the lead and give solid performances, the more compelling portrayals come from Ruby Stokes and Lindsay Duncan, Stokes brings a wonderful vulnerability and self-reflection, while Duncan brings a strong intelligence, awareness and astute nature. The four of them together create an interesting mix of different personality types and they do it wonderfully, but again it feels as though they’re missing out on delving deeper.
A Banquet is another example of how female directors are helping to create a new horror revolution and mix things up. It’s tense, eery and haunting, shot with a strong, sharp style which brings out an impressive level of detail. It’s simply a shame to see the story hold back a little too much, there were more layers and complexities to pull from which get left unexplored. Despite those missed opportunities, it’s extremely well made and almost feels like a mix of Jeff Nichols’ Take Shelter and Rose Glass’ Saint Maud.