Life is rarely kind, but sometimes it is particularly cruel; Holly scrubbing the bed in which her dying husband Jason lies, massaging his back to clear his lungs so he can breathe more easily, one act is more effective than the other. She loves him and cares for him but it makes little difference; it is better than nothing but still he wants out, leaving Holly and their two teenage daughters, Betsey and Isabelle.
Isabelle focused on her figure skating, Betsey is uncertain of her future, which course or even which university, and becoming more withdrawn her behaviour is at first of concern then alarming, refusing to eat and choking when she tries to swallow even a single pea. Is it a physical condition such as an allergy or something psychological, or, as Betsey finally conveys under duress, has she been chosen to manifest a presence which entered her under a blood red moon?
Comprising courses of guilt, accusations and suffering served in a room of black walls which echo the misery back on the diners, A Banquet is directed by Ruth Paxton from a script by Justin Bull, Sienna Guillory the mother who does not tolerate defiance from her offspring, refusing to accept that Jessica Alexander’s sullen Betsey needs more than she can give, with Ruby Stokes’ meek Isabelle caught in the crossfire.
Crammed with images of food and its consumption, of bodily fluids and blood, A Banquet is a sensory experience so intimate as to be repellent as Holly scolds Betsey without irony that anorexia is an affliction of “entitled middle-class white girls,” a perfect description of the family who eat sourdough avocado toast for breakfast in their white-tiled kitchen, performative cruelty in the guise of caring she inherited it from her own mother, the supremely icy Lindsay Duncan who recalls an incident of Betsey childhood.
“It was all a little act to get what you already knew you wanted,” June tells her granddaughter who is suffering from psychotic episodes and hallucinations, but with no clear diagnosis or therapy, Holly unwilling to submit her daughter to psychiatric care because of her own traumatic experiences, the table is filled with everything but what she might need to help her.
An uncomfortable examination of the helplessness and hopelessness of mental illness which parallels They Look Like People, the agony of those afflicted and the frustration of those who hold out a hand to help but cannot reach, A Banquet tries valiantly to be profound but lacks empathy and refuses sympathy, full of sound and directionless fury but unsure where to go and as half-formed as the new age nonsense Betsey spouts, pointing fingers and trawling over guilt but unable to find a resolution.
A Banquet will be available on Shudder from Thursday 26th May