“Transcendental horror is less about monsters and more about facing up to the really horrible things about being human”: Ruth Paxton, Sienna Guillory and Jessica Alexander on A Banquet
A Banquet is the deliciously disturbing psychological horror from Scottish filmmaker Ruth Paxton, following mother Holly (Sienna Guillory) and her two teenage daughters, who recently lost their husband and father in a traumatic suicide. Their affluent lifestyle is put under strain and Holly is doing her best to keep their perfect life together but a further spanner is thrown in the works when she spots that her eldest, Betsey (Jessica Alexander), has entirely stopped eating since a night at a friend’s house party went south.
What ensues is an intoxicating mix of taut thriller, horror and, as Paxton puts it, psychodrama, where the most horrifying images emerge from the mundane: creative use of cinematography and sound design means the beautifully fresh produce Holly chops, blends and cooks up for her daughters may as well be human flesh, drawing the audience viscerally into the experience of finding food and eating utterly grotesque. The expensive, expansive house they live in becomes increasingly dark, sterile and foreboding, with an ominous feeling that a threat to the family lurks within.
Through a distinctive stylistic take on her chosen medium, Paxton deftly deals with how the pressures on women can manifest themselves, and A Banquet is as interesting as a study of family dynamics through three generations of women as it is an absorbing thriller. As Holly takes Betsy from doctor to doctor to find out how to “fix” her unexplained eating disorder, the audience isn’t sure what to believe is a psychological affliction and what is real, akin to how society often disbelieves women when it comes to pain, mental health and disease. When Holly’s own mother comes into the picture (a brilliantly curt Lindsay Duncan), imposing her old-fashioned view of how to handle the situation and dredging up her mistreatment of her daughter, we see how cycles of trauma can play out across generations. And Betsey’s talk about the end of the world has a not-too-difficult-to-grasp parallel with the anxiety the upcoming generation feel about the impending climate crisis.
The Upcoming had the pleasure of speaking to the filmmaker and cast about the film. Paxton sat down with us to talk us through the making of A Banquet, her cast and the recent wave of female filmmakers using horror as a vehicle to investigate the female experience on-screen. She told us: “I’ve heard people talk a lot about this kind of transcendental horror, which is less about monsters and supernatural or otherworldly things and more about facing up to the really horrible things about being human.” Watch the rest of the interview below.
Guillory and Alexander gave us some insight into working together on the film as mother and daughter, and what they think some of themes are in terms of eating disorders and female relationships.
The Upcoming also spoke to Guillory in depth ahead of the release about the shooting of the film and how it discusses belief, motherhood and people’s relationships with food.
Plus we heard from the cast on the red carpet at the London Film Festival premiere. Duncan spoke about the appeal of the project for her and how it looks at different generational perspectives on eating disorders and mental health.
Guillory shared her reflections on her character and working with her fellow cast and director.
A Banquet is released in select cinemas and digitally on demand on 11th March 2022.
Watch the trailer for A Banquet here: