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MOVIES (GFF 2022): A Banquet - Review

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It is maybe easy to compare A Banquet to the likes of Saint Maud - without any of the same narrative bite – substituting the need to fit in the ‘elevated horror’ genre (that isn’t really a genre at all) with that of a psychological approach. A Banquet's primary focal point is a girl called Betsey on the verge of going to university who develops a condition where she can’t eat anything and believes she has been chosen by something – given a destiny in a world where her future is uncertain and she has a whole life ahead of her.

Ruth Paxton introduces us to a mother-daughter struggle that tests widowed mother Holly when Betsey believes she’s in the service of a higher power – somehow losing no weight as she is placed on the scales despite not eating. It’s enough to make Holly test her own beliefs as she allows Betsey to explain her reasonings for feeling this way – and despite the external factors at play, Betsey remains true to her visions of the surrounding darkness. Jessica Alexander is superb in this breakout performance that completely convinces you that Betsey buys into every second of her vision and belief – the performances keep Paxton’s story grounded throughout, and the decisions from both characters are very well justified. Sienna Guillory in particular too is as good as Alexander as Holly wrestles with the decisions that her daughter has made for herself.

Unfortunately, despite initial promise, evoking a memory of Joachim Trier's Thelma in its dark spin on a coming of age tale - A Banquet moves too slowly – its length feels about ten times longer than it is, and feels undercooked – its promise doesn’t really go anywhere and it takes it time to get going. Usually with films like these you get an ending that leaves a mark – but I did not get that with A Banquet, there are moments of real promise but it just feels lopsided and uncommitted, like it’s trying to work out what story it wants to tell. It succeeds in being creative in its design and crafting a uniquely unnerving world, but this is all what it manages to be – lavish but empty, hollow and unsatisfyingly half-baked, failing to make its message as a grieving allegory land - especially when it is so similiar to Saint Maud which accomplishes everything here so much better and more effectively.

At least – if there’s one thing to take comfort in, surely every actor in this film is destined for greater things. It's just this one I was very tempted to turn off before finishing, and almost did so.

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