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.

When EVIL Strikes a Family Hard is When Fission Divides and Conquers. “Nuclear” reviewed! (101 Films / Digital Screener)

Emma witnesses her troubled brother violently beating their mother while dragging her through the woods.  After he leaves, Emma and her injured mother escape to the countryside, driving through the night until coming upon a village house, next to what was once a large power plant that now sits vacant, to squat for a few days.  Emma comes into an encounter with a local boy a little older than herself with a free spirit for illegal extreme sports and taking dangerous risks to new heights.  What was intended to be an isolating refuge has turned into an alluring interest for Emma who admires the boy’s nomadic lifestyle, but while her mother’s physical injuries heal, a lingering trauma begins to emerge and Emma’s violent brother is also hot on their trail seeking them out.

Lately, our reviews have been on a stretch of psychological thrillers by first time feature film directors expressing a compelling narrative in the worst of situations; we’ve tackled the unhealthy family relations while battling acute mental illness with Joe Marcantonio’s “Kindred” and have taken a step back in time into the Cold War era with isolation tension and uncontrollable violent outbursts in the “Darkness in Apartment 45,” directed by Nicole Groton.  Well, we’re going for the hat trick with Catherine Linstrum debuting her written and directed psychological drama, “Nuclear,” that deals with the fallout of an estranged, threadbare family under the looming shadow of a defunct nuclear power plant, upending a whole new meaning for the term nuclear family.  Co-written with longtime collaborator, David-John Newman. “Nuclear” is a radiating co-production funded by the British Film Institute, Fields Park Media, and Ffilm Cymru Wales, and Great Point Media with Stella Nwimo serving as producer and Paul Higgins as executive producer.

Much of the narrative hinges on Emma, “Locke & Key’s” Emilia Jones, as a 14-year daughter at the center of her brother’s terrible misdeed that sparks a flight of escape to the country and then befriends an eccentric boy who pulls her toward a more grounded frame of mind despite his extreme antics.  The boy, charmingly played by “1917’s” George MacKay, is exactly the distraction Emilia needed while sheltering in refuge. MacKay boyish good looks accentuates his character’s overweening attitude that renders a thin layer of mysteriousness about him as the boy,, and when I say boy I mean young man not much older than Emilia, lives out of his van near the power plant and does backflips on a stone bridge. With such a small cast, one would assume the boy would have interactions with Emilia’s mother or brother, but that’s not the case as the film purposefully uses evasive maneuvers intended not to mingle the boy with Emilia’s mother, played by another Resident Evil Jill Valentine actress (see review of “Darkness in Apartment 45”) Sienna Guillory, and brother Oliver Coopersmith (“It’s Alive” remake), who are weaved into different stages of Emilia’s cerebral reactions to events that unfold unexpectedly. Floating through the story, like a supernatural Japanese house wife, is Noriko Sakura who, much like most of the other characters, plays that is unidentified, but Sakura’s wraithlike presence attaches itself to Emilia’s mother as a telltale sign that something isn’t quite right with the mother’s mental state.

“Nuclear,” in regards to the term, can be interpreted and dissected on many levels within the film; two possible, and perhaps the more obvious, espies are a nuclear family (as a pun on the phrase that denotes nuclear fission) that goes through a chain reaction of dependent events after a horrible event and the other would be the blatant power plant sitting idle and empty in the background, a symbol of a ruin that once harnessed power and gave energy to all and an allegory to this young teenager Emilia’s handling of the crime committed against her one and only protector- her mother. “Nuclear” is very much a young girl coming of age film that strikes chords of self-reliance and free choice while also strumming to disconnect from her parents and family, but she must face them first in order to really let go of the past. But does Catherine Lindstrum pull all the elements together? Lindstrum’s brain-teasing drama will ultimately confuse the general masses. Hell, “Nuclear” even confuses me by not sewing the last threads to connect the stitches of hecatomb effects as the principles players somber through an inexplicit tapestry that’s not clear, present, and often feels distant. The end result does evoke a sense of a coming of age story, but how that adolescent scores through tribulation is about opaque as murky water.

 

“Nuclear” is a twisting cerebral topography tale comprised of seasoned actors and promising young talent from the United Kingdom being distributed courtesy 101 Films, releasing digitally November 9th. Behind the camera is French cinematographer Crystel Fournier with a harsh realism that delivers a natural, but bleak tone full of shadows and gray contrast. Fournier captures and differentiates Emma’s solitude and isolation, especially when she, inadvertently, searches for answers through the motif of faith centric crosses and messages that surround her in and out of the cottage. Stephen McKeon’s score compliments Fournier’s atmo-melancholic with beautiful synth piano and Celtic akin violin compositions. There were no bonus features included with this digital screener and there were no bonus scenes during or after the credits. Don’t expect a mushroom cloud of edge-of-your-seat drama and psychological torment, “Nuclear” is the breadth of anticipation of the Cold War, never knowing what, when, and where to expect the bomb to drop in Catherine Linstrum’s debuting quandary.