New in select theaters, On Demand, and digital download from IFC Midnight!
A BANQUET (2021)
Directed by Ruth Paxton.
Written by Justin Bull.
Starring Sienna Guillory, Jessica Alexander, Ruby Stokes, Lindsay Duncan, Kaine Zajaz, Richard Keep
Find out more about this film here!
Holly (Sienna Guillory) lives a comfortable life as a single mother of two teenage girls—younger sister Isabelle (Ruby Stokes) and older sis Betsey (Jessica Alexander). Both seem to be healthy and happy, but after a strange encounter in the woods during a party, Betsey passes out and suddenly just stops eating. Though she seems to feel fine, Betsey describes her symptoms as simply feeling a numbness and disconnect from her body and a looming revelation that something apocalyptic is coming.
While it deals with horrifying elements, I struggle to call A BANQUET a horror movie. It’s more of a dark drama, focusing on eating disorders and how it affects not only those with them, but those around them as well. Across the board, the film is well acted. Sienna Guillory does a fantastic job as the mother who is simply grasping at straws in hopes to find some kind of cure for her daughter’s ailment. She shifts from rage, to resentment, to compromise, to hopelessness effortlessly and often throughout this story and while the focus here is on Betsey’s problem, much of the story focuses on how difficult it is watching this go on from outside of any rational understanding. And it is frustrating to see someone simply throwing their life away because of some kind of delusion. In this case, though, it is made unclear as to whether something insidious is going on or if it is something simply made up in Betsey’s head.
Jessica Alexander does a fantastic job as Betsey. She doesn’t completely understand what’s going on and wants to find a cure for what is happening, but simply cannot eat. The thing is, she isn’t losing weight or really showing any side effects. This seemingly supernatural angle really does make you question what is going on and it kept me interested in the story all the way through, even though it relies on drama to propel it rather than scary or gory scenes. Much of the conflict is featured in a dreamlike way as Betsey is falling apart mentally juxtaposed against this pristine and privileged home with a caring family around her. Alexander really communicates that stuck between a rock and a hard place feel where she wants to ease her family’s tensions but doesn’t know how. Other exemplary performances come from the youngest sister Isabelle (played by Ruby Stokes) who acts out and seems to be going down the same path simply because Betsey is getting all of this attention. And Lindsay Duncan is fantastic as the grandma who thinks she sees through this facade and attempts to threaten Betsey out of her funk. The way all of these characters interact with Betsey really does reflect the spectrum of reactions one has with dealing with eating disorders or any other kind of mental illness in wonderfully, realistic ways.
That said, I found the final moments, where some answers are given, to be unsatisfying. There’s a late in the game revelation about Betsey’s weight loss or lack thereof that is too subtle and completely unclear. The final scene reminded me of the shocking last second of SAINT MAUDE, but A BANQUET doesn’t communicate its message as clear as it could have, so the impact is much less potent. Because it seems to want a more subtle ending and not provide answers, it makes for a vague message sent. It’s undeniable that there is plenty of talent in front of and behind the camera with A BANQUET, but by the time the credits rolled, I felt as if a lot of it was undercut with its ethereal message and ambiguous end.