Horror has always been an avenue to take real world issues and extrapolate them into dark and supernatural territory. It’s a genre that’s always been smarter than it gets credit for, and it’s one that has always reflected society as a whole.
Shudder’s latest exclusive film, A Banquet, takes one such issue and runs with it into that territory. Simple and direct in its approach, it’s one part body horror, one part possession movie.
Following the tragic death of her husband (which becomes relevant later) Holly (Sienna Guillory) is left to raise her two teenage daughters Betsey and Isabelle. As the family tries to keep as normal as possible, Betsey begins refusing food, claiming that it’s all part of a larger meaning and purpose, and that she was visited by some being, and the more she explains it, the more Holly becomes frustrated and disillusioned with her teenage daughter.
Eventually, Betsey’s grandmother June (Linsdey Duncan) visits and shares a rather disturbing anecdote from Betsey’s childhood, along with an equally unsettling theory involving Japanese folklore. It does seemingly come out of nowhere, and the movie itself (aside from one scene) never really doubles down on it.
At its core, A Banquet isn’t the type of movie that’s trying to jump out and scare its audience. Rather it plays out more like a tense family drama, with those horror elements in the background. It’s mostly focused on Holly desperately trying to keep things together. Sienna Guillory gives a strong performance, demonstrating that she has serious acting chops that weren’t properly being utilized in her Resident Evil performances.
Betsey herself spends most of the movie either in trances or spouting odd, deranged philosophical points to justify not eating. As far as moody teenagers go, she plays the part well, and she’s able to jump fully into the role for the more disturbing scenes as well.
Hiding the background of both Holly and the movie’s attention is Betsey’s sister Isabelle. Ultimately she’s there to be a foil to Betsey as the “normal” child so that with her contrast we see how far Betsey is going. But it seems that she’s either given just too much or too little screen and plot time. Either making her a bigger part or not including her at all would have worked better than what the movie does.
As previously mentioned, horror is a great genre to explore real issues with because it can run into absurd or supernatural territory, meaning that the subject matter feels less preachy or melodramatic. Betsey’s struggles with the supernatural force serve as a metaphor for eating disorders, and the effect it has on her family is similar to that in real life.
The beauty of horror is that it can explore these ideas all while simultaneously being a great horror movie. People can enjoy its surface level horror or they can analyze and take away these themes, or they can do both.. Horror allows for all of it, and A Banquet tows the line between the two.
What did you think of A Banquet? Let us know in the comments!