The Earth is Healing with EVIL Intentions. “The Feast” reviewed (IFC Midnight / Digital Screener)

Glenda is frantically planning a dinner party for seven people at her newly constructed, modern rural home in the Welsh countryside. In order to quickly prepare, Glenda hires a young waitress, Cadi, from the local pub-restaurant as a pair of extra hands, but becomes intertwined with Glenda’s eccentric and dysfunctional family and friends who are drug addicts, sexual deviants, narcissists, and greedily apathetic in respecting local Welsh traditions and lands. However, Cadi keeps her own secret, one that’ll will transform the joyous dinner party into a night of deadly retribution for all their sins upon Earth.

For a language once on the brink of extinction and only spoken by less than a million people, probably even more less than that estimate, director Lee Haven Jones’ debut feature film, “The Feast,” reintroduces the language to many of us with revitalizing the Celtic-tradition Welsh tongue by implementing it as the entire dialect for his introductory from the United Kingdom. Jones’ eco-horror clashes archaic Welsh lore and traditions with the newfangled inattentive and neglectful modernism from a script by Roger Williams, a frequent collaborator with Jones on previous credits such as the split-heritage documentary “Galesa” and the short-lived drama series drama series, “Tir,” about foreign invaders intrusively adding financial hardships Welsh landowners. Also known as “Gwledd” on script in Wales, “The Feast” is executively produced by Jones and Williams as well as Gwenllian Gravelle, and Paul Higgins under an amass of production companies in the British Film Institute (with funds stemming from the national lottery), Ffilm Cymru Wales, S4C, Fields Park and, in association with, Great Point Media and Melville Media Limited.

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A dinner party fit for the scum of society comes to mind as Jones rounds the horn introducing Glenda’s passively confrontational family whom all are on display for having vices unsuitable for polite society. Beginning with her sons, two brothers shamed by their parents into hiding from out of the public eye by whisking them away to their rural abode, are portrayed by actors Steffan Cennydd as the drug addicted and party loafer Guto and Sion Alun Davies as the an intelligent and sterile sociopath with a sordid past involving accusing women. There’s also her husband Gwyn (Julian Lewis Jones, “Elfie Hopkins: Cannibal Hunter”) with a sleazy demeanor and an quenchable thirst for money. The family friend Euros (Rhodri Meilir) lives and breathes squeezing every ouch of worth from the dollar signs he envisions plastered on everything to the point that his pigheadedness will eventually get the better of him. Lastly, there is Glenda (Nia Roberts) herself who is a pursuer of the finer, material things eager to display them proudly no matter the cost of bloodshed. Roger Williams’ characters are written absolutely lush with cancerous class and a vague sense of their surroundings as they stew proudly being one boldly intense personality to the next; however, they become becomes cleaved by the house party help, Cadi, with a shark-circling simplicity by Annes Elwy. Elwy barely has any dialogue as she submerses Cadi, quietly like a submarine silently churning the waters, into the family’s eclectic affairs and studying their every movement with a naïve gaze, but there is nothing naïve about Cadi’s uncomfortable silence that becomes heedlessly unnoticed by, no surprise here, the group of narcissists. “The Feast” rounds out the cast with Lisa Palfrey, the only rational head with surprising little screen time after briefly unveiling a shocking revelation about just exactly who Glenda let in her home.

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2021 has been the year for under-the-radar, but oh so good, eco-horror.  Among the ranks following this years Ben Wheatley’s “In the Earth” and Jaco Bouwer’s “Gaia” comes the all-things-Welsh cautionary outlier that when pushed too far, when disturbed too much, and when reeking virally infused putrid, a vindictive reaper will come calling.  In this case, that harbinger of death takes the form of a landbound spirit rooted in lore with an insidiously coy wolf in sheep’s clothing mounting a strike with subtle, rancorous fangs by smothering them with their own debaucheries and vices.  “The Feast” will take a couple of viewings to fully digest the complete airy extent of Jones’ lax editing, under the cut and paste thumb of Kevin Jones, that can infrequently blur character timelines and presence in the story, as if plot points were forced into an unsure elucidation to connect the dots.  With a simmering horror on a spoke of unsettling imagery, the editing should have slightly been more binding to tighten gray areas; instead, “The Feast” has an abstract quality third act that not only chops up scenes, but also chops up bodies influentially consumed by the already self-destructing aspects. Some time must pass, a few days maybe, to let “The Feast” penetrate an understanding as it’s one of those flicks, wrapped loosely in cultural folklore or maybe told with the assumption non-Welsh viewers will grasp, the more thought about or written about, the more appreciation the film will disclose way after the credits roll.

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Funny how gravitating cultural folklore and nature grow an impeccable theme of doom as if shaping mythologies and a life-growing ecosystem equate to nothing more than a foreboding sense that one day mankind will become extinct at their own hand. “The Feast” portions a slice of that ominous pie, topped with Welsh lore and gore, coming to North America theaters and digital on-demand this November 19th, just in time for America’s feasting activities of Thanksgiving. The 93 minute, unrated film will be distributed by IFC Midnight, the sister label to IFC Films, owned and operated by AMC Networks Inc. Bjørn Ståle Bratberg serves as cinematographer who options to start with the fresh-air, blue-sky landscape of the Welsh countryside than slowly guide us, step-by-step into the character delinking from the natural, beautiful world into a more menacing night of harsh darkness and fervent flame to reveal true identities. Bratberg’s dim lighting seemingly imprisons the sordid family in the new and modern home that’s like a prison with a gray brick interior and has a room of relaxation for Glenda that is noted by a guest in resembling a prison cell. The message of revenge resounded loud and clear; “The Feast” lays down coruscating repercussions in reaping the land for one’s own benefit and Lee Haven Jones’ wayward timebomb evokes an upsetting fear and tension for a dinner party finale that is surely to go way-wrong in this different kind of revenge thriller.

Do You Know Why EVIL is Fun the Life of the Party? Because He’s a Fungi! “Gaia” reviewed! (Decal / Digital Screener)



Checking and repairing motion capturing surveillance cameras in one of the last untouched forests in the world, a park ranger becomes severely injured while tracking a downed drone.  She finds herself in the company of a nature survivalist, a father and son, living outside the means of the modern world and becoming acolytes to waking entity underneath the forest ground, sprouting up and assimilating the living organisms topside, including people, into spore-growth mutated creatures.  Despite the father and son’s devotion to the being, essentially integrating themselves seemingly uninfected by the airborne spores, they avoid the blind drones who hunt by sound and the survivalist know most of the tricks in the book to dodge their incessant wrath, but the ranger brings new dangers to their sanctuary forest home being an outside influence on the son who takes a keen fascination to her beauty as well as instill in him an interest beyond the edge of the wilderness.  Battling two fronts and keep his devotion to the ancient being, the father must do anything in his power to avoid the corruption of his son even if that means making a sacrificial pact with his God. 

If you dug unearthing Ben Wheatley’s “In the Earth” that released earlier this year, then travel from the United Kingdom to South Africa and definitely follow up with another subterranean deity at the crust of breaking through to our plane of existence with Jaco Bouwer’s nature versus man, out of body experience, thriller “Gaia.”  “Gaia,” from Greek mythology is one of the primordial deities of Earth, plays on themes of youth into adulthood, the parental struggles of children leaving home, and the dangers of a forgotten and neglected nature from a script from South American screenwriter Tertius Kapp, collaborating once again with Bouwer after their work in their respective roles on the crime horror series “Die Spreeus.”  Filmed in the Tsitsikamma forest of South Africa, “Gaia” is a production of the new Film Initiative Africa company in partnership with kykNet Films.

With only less than a handful of actors, four to be exact, the characters are quickly overshadowed and swallowed by the dense growth of an uncultivated forest.  Couple that with an insidious fungi that unhurriedly alters the exposed with toadstools and mushrooms shoots growing from the inside out onto their skin and face until they’re a part of the forest or a syncytial creature and you have an isolating setting of dichotomized terror between the beauty of nature’s miracle and it frighteningly growing right on your forehead. The story opens with park rangers Gabi (“Die Spreeus'” Monique Rockman) and her more playfully cautious partner Winston (Anthony Oseyeme, South African television’s “The Dead Places”) kayaking down river with Gabi using a drone to scout the forest ahead. Eventually, Gabi and Winston become separated because Gabi feels compelled to track down the downed drone alone and Winston bumbles the his watertight inappropriate walkie-talkie right into the river, making it useless and easily setting up obstacles to make reinstating their partnership extremely difficult in a forest that’s literally trying to eat them so to speak. This is where Gabi encounters the austere father and son living on dogma Gabi has yet to be schooled until the pundit father, Berend (“Blood Drive’s” Carel Nel), educates her on him and his son vocation, the forest deity, and, eventually, her own fate. Berend’s son Stefan (Alex van Dyk) is a child raised in the thicket, lamed by his father about the outside world because of his own insecurities. Nel and van Dyk are charismatically mysterious snaking themselves through the woods as one unit and ping well of each other in silent action as they collect spores and set primitive traps. Only when Gabi becomes an inadvertent wedge that lights a small flame of interest under Stefan, who’s at the edge of adulthood as a young man with hormones and a sense of wonder, does Nel and van Dyk begin to dissolve the father and son union that turns into a love triangle, of sorts, to which no parent will ever win when it comes to new and shiny objects and a sexual drive bigger than any spirit dwelling forest.

“Gaia’s” disturbing and omnipresent world imagery creates thought-provoking allegory of nature fighting back against the rapid infestation known as people.  As mankind creeps closer to the borders of naturally preserved habitats, singeing ancient ecosystems with deforestation and various grades of Earth withering pollution, the idea that a planet has a champion of defense, eager to rid the land of detrimental flesh and bone with a fungus cleanse, in an unseen mythological terrestrial being personified as this worshipped-by-few deity is great creative story telling. Paralleling the concept is a secondary of dynamics, the growth of life within the destruction of life. Stefan is nothing more than a boy without knowledge beyond the forest limits until he meets an resident of that outside world with the power to influence and we all know beautiful women have this mystifying power of young men. While Berend sees corruption, a tainting of purity that is his son, Gabi depicts more than just an aesthetic influencer and good-doer eager to save a boy from an unadorned existence, she is also the full-bodied, well-endowed representation of everything persuasive to impressionable minds. Bouwer works the characters interactions inside an imagery soup that bob with meat chunks, that gleam off the edges of rigid noodles, under a milky broth that looks so unnatural that only nature can be the very architect of it’s organic design. The hallucinations, the nightmares, the floating, hazy spores douse the senses, the psyche, with undiluted uneasiness and that’s Bouwer’s defining moment with a trip down a rabbit hole made with cautionary tale fibers too unreal and fantastical to forget.

Part ecological horror, part posture on pollution, and part Biblical narrative with The Binding of Isaac, “Gaia’s” value is as immensely somber as it is scary. “Gaia” is planned to be unearthed to the public exclusively in theaters on June 18th and everywhere digitally one week later, June 25th, as the inaugural feature from the new distribution company, Decal. Jorrie van der Walt’s eye for contrast and distressing imagery is enriching to a soul hungry for the subtle and striking caliginous brink of apocalypses. Bordering pure performance art tinged with intense closeups, Walt easily interchanges the grand forest presence with tight personal trepidation as if nothing else in the world was as important as that exact moment, as you’ll see in the screenshots. The digital effects coupled with the makeup work tilts more to a less textured desire, but integrates well enough into the madness of phantasmagoria. “Gaia” is beautifully shot, edited, acted, written, and directed as a pondering piece for the reality of Anthropocene principles rooted by elemental horror.

Unleashed, Nature Inspires the EVIL in All of Us! “In The Earth” reviewed (Neon / Digital Screener)

A deadly virus has ravaged the world, placing the inhabitants on a high alert edge of incessant sanitation and relentless paranoia. Martin, a scientist from the city, ventures to an ecological nature preserve to convey equipment for tests being conducted deep in the forest. Park Ranger, Alma, guides him on a two day trek toward a camp in total isolation supervised by Dr. Olivia Wendle, but during the second day of the journey, Martin and Alma are attacked in the middle of the night, left with no gear and a vague sense of what happened. The virus has yet to stake a claim on those living within the woods, but another malicious-driven presence, entombed by superstition and mental manipulation, enacts the forest to come alive around them, forcing them into a direction that presents a summoning of nature’s folkloric revenant.

COVID-19 has brought a tremendous amount of sorrow and an unforgiving plight upon the world, but for a few filmmakers, a global pandemic has been a source of inspiration that been a silver lining amongst the Earth’s population upheaval. Director Ben Wheatley tapped into that filament, you could say ,with his man versus nature mystery horror “In The Earth.” The filmmaker of “U is for Unearthed” short from the “ABCs of Death” and soon-to-be helming the follow up big screen sequel to novelist’s Steve Alten’s widely popular monster shark book series with “Meg 2: The Trench,” Wheatley writes and directs a quarantine start-to-finish feature that also incorporates the pandemic into the story, much to the same likes as Rob Savage’s “Host” that uses the virus as a means to drive the characters into doing something they normally wouldn’t be doing. The UK production is from Wheatley’s founded Rook Films and Neon, who last co-produced Brandon Cronenberg’s violent sci-fi thriller, “Possessor.”

With the pandemic resulting quarantine and a story set in the thicket of woods, “In The Earth” is innately slim around the casting waistline that concentrates the performance zest amongst a few, beginning with the introduction of Martin the scientist walking up to the sentry lodge located at the forest edge. Played by Joel Fry (“Game of Thrones”), the London born actor must endure as a hapless city boy taking woodland shots on the chin without much complaint, but definitely a grimace, a whimper, and a pass out. Guiding Martin through the woods is Alma, a seasoned park ranger under the eye of “Midsommar’s” Ellora Torchia who balances out her travel companion’s near ill-equipped, yet hazardously attempting, roughing the outdoors. Martin and Alma are nearly mirrored by the only other two people they come across in the forest – Zach and Dr. Wendle. Yet, Zach and Dr. Wendle’s similarities channel through how they instrument a link to the forest being, known as Parnag Fegg, that calls them to release it from the timber and foliage prison. Zach (Reece Shearsmith of “Shaun of the Dead”) honors Parnag Fegg with ritualistic images and symbols while Dr. Wendle (Hayley Squires) uses a combination of technological lights and experimental music to speak with the powerfully alluring presence. Shearsmith is devilishly certifiable with Squires backing up his character craziness with her own version that never places Martin and Alma into a safe haven’s circle. “In The Earth” rounds out the cast with Mark Monero and John Hollingworth.

“In The Earth’s” binary coding of nature versus urban, plus sublets of traditions versus technology, runs as a seamless motif to a bigger theme that nature has a global network web of personified communication and reason. I imagine Wheatley succeeded in what M. Night Shyamalan tried to accomplish in the Mark Walhberg’s headlining “The Happening” with bringing nature to the forefront stand against man who continuously seeks to destroy themselves and the world, forcing nature’s hand to take drastic measures, but Wheatley’s film more so tells not the story of a worldwide assault on mankind but rather as the resurrection of a single entity, an archaic necromancer of local legend, eager to walk the Earth once again after being driven to disembody their spirit to the forest. “In The Earth” also provokes a literal meaning toward an age old saying of “nature calling” by using the aforesaid network to unconsciously lure specific individuals into the woods and gather near a gateway relic or stone,. This act of intention calls for a sacrifice of purity and so one of the four individuals – Alma, Martin, Zach, and Olivia – will involuntary be the vessel of Parnag Fegg’s return while the others, under the persuasion of forest spirit, due it’s song-and-dance bidding. Ben Wheatley taps into a very John Carpenter archetype of people on the cusp of unleashing certain doom upon the world, invoking not only a spirit but also that very sense of last stand against damnation as epitomized in “The Thing” and “The Prince of Darkness.” “In The Earth,” however, isn’t so easy to see the forest through the trees with an first act setup that zips through the situation that leads Martin and Alma trekking through the woods and Parnag Fegg is only briefly dappled to be a dangled carrot for bigger things to come.

A chiseled, fey story with a dark, ominous cloud of impending doom lingering overhead, “In The Earth” is transcendence horror at it’s finest. Neon is set to release the R-rated, 107 minute film, “In The Earth,” in theaters on April 30th. The scaled down budget didn’t hinder Wheatley’s grand platform and with Nick Gillespie’s sophomore credit as feature film cinematographer, the playbook was unwritten for Gillespie to rework how to shoot a film under the confines of a pandemic with limited cast, a living forest, and still maintain safe social distant practices under strict mandated guidelines. Gillespie formulated wide-angles to capture an expanse of trees diminutively enshrouding the characters, almost like the forest was going to gulp them at any moment. A composition of artful imagery compiled together in a collage of intoxicating colors and feverish styles interprets nothing concrete in the heroines journey of an nearly unknowable presence only knowledgeable by world of mouth, leaving also the audience induced with a psychedelic vision at the whims of Wheatley’s direction. There were no bonus scenes during or after the credits and the perfunctory ending opens the door for interpretation that can be more impacting than a firm resolution. Born and bred from the depths of the coronavirus pandemic, “In The Earth” dispatches a diversion from the immediate, the real world, and the tumult of a virus with a bewilderingly diversion of troubling folk horror sown directly into Mother Nature herself.