A BANQUET (REVIEW)
Dir. Ruth Paxton
Reviewer. Martyn Wakefield
Holly (Sienna Guillory), a widowed mother is radically tested when her teenage daughter Betsey (Jessica Alexander) insists a supernatural experience has left her body in service to a higher power. Interweaving Japanese folklore and western values, A BANQUET is as a sum of it's parts, an enigmatic and unmissable film that really gets under the skin.
There's an abstract nature to the family unit. Large empty dinner tables for three, shots of a single pea within a large plate, extensive distances across the ice rink, a home with endless rooms, all of this lacks any warmth that there may be between Holly, Betsey and Isabelle (with a brilliantly nuanced turn from Ruby Stokes), even when the girls grandmother (Lindsay Duncan) is introduced, there's a distance between her and Holly. Yet, it's difficult to ever turn away as the evolving relationship between the family and Betsey's debilitating health is as hypnotic as one of her trance states.
Jessica Alexander is mesmerising and captures the spirit of troubled teen so well. The longing question of the line she treads being in her own head and more physical possession is often crossed and is as much a puzzle to the viewer as it is to those around her. The gut wrenching scenes towards the films climax are there to evoke emotion and Ruth Paxton's direction to get to the truest horror of a mother without having to glimpse at metaphorical monsters is Earth shattering. This is a horror film at it's core but one with many layers which distance itself from the conventions of the genre.
The conversation of family, the wanton to believe ones truth but also comfort their child's truth, even when they scientifically and metaphysically conflict, is a journey in and of itself, one portrayed brilliantly between Guillory and Alexander. The addition of the outsiders, Stokes and Duncan in this case, are at further conflict and not quite as quickly bought into the mental instability of Alexander's Betsey.
A BANQUET is slow, wordy and often prolonged with little emotion on the surface but as the behaviour of Betsey grows more and more perturbed, as does the rising tension between the family and the unfolding direction the film resides at. There are glimpses of the destination made but A BANQUET plays best when it leaves the ideas with the viewer and fortunately as a trio of superb actors to direct us there.