A Banquet (2021) poster

A Banquet (2021)


UK. 2021.


Director – Ruth Paxton, Screenplay – Justin Bull, Producers – Nik Bower, Leonora Darby, James Harris, Mark Lane & Laura Vaysse, Photography – David Liddell, Music – CJ Mirra, Visual Effects – Richard Blackburn, Special Effects Supervisor – Matt Strange, Makeup Effects/Puppet Effects – 13 Finger FX (Designer – Dan Martin), Production Design – Sofia Stocco. Production Company – Tea Shop Productions/Riverstone Pictures/REPS.


Sienna Guillory (Holly Hughes), Jessica Alexander (Betsey Hughes), Ruby Stokes (Isabelle Hughes), Lindsay Duncan (June), Kaine Zajaz (Dominic), Richard Keep (Jason), Deka Warmsley (Doctor), Adam Abbou (Caleb)


Holly Hughes’ husband dies of an illness. Not long after, their teenage daughter Betsey is at a party and wanders away into the woods and returns changed. After that, Betsey will no longer eat and vomits up when Holly tries to make her do so, although does not appear to lose any weight. Holly is driven to desperation, consulting doctors, psychologists and considering placing Betsey in a psychiatric facility, all as Betsey maintains that nothing is wrong. Instead Betsey insists that she was contacted by a higher power while she was in the woods and granted a vision of cosmic purpose that all things are coming to an end.

A Banquet was a directorial debut for Scottish director Ruth Paxton who had previously made assorted short films.

A Banquet was a film that I spent most of the time while watching it wondering whether it was one I was going to write up or not. There is a frustrating vagueness to what is going on and the film never clearly coalesces into offering much in the way of explanations. All we get is a girl who stops eating and insists ‘something’ is going to happen. We get various supernatural explanations posited. At the end, some possibly cosmic event occurs but we have no idea what it is.

That is about the whole of the film. It nevertheless manages to be highly absorbing. Ruth Paxton directs with some exquisite photography – the depiction of all the food being served up comes with a delicious richness that would easily make it into the layout for a high-end gourmet magazine or commercial. There are excellent performances, especially the increasingly fraught state of mind shown by Sienna Guillory, the sharp intelligence of her mother Lindsay Duncan and the serene aloofness of daughter Jessica Alexander.

Jessica Alexander at the dinner table under pressure to eat in A Banquet (2021)
Jessica Alexander at the dinner table under pressure to eat

The scenes with the family reacting to Jessica Alexander come with great psychological tension, no more so than a scene where Sienna Guillory tries to persuade and then browbeat her to eat half her meal, gradually whittling it down to half-a-dozen peas and then just a single pea, which Jessica does only to vomit it up. There is much discussion whether this is psychological in nature, all before Lindsay Duncan tells a gripping story about a Japanese man whose wife was affected by a demon that ate all his crops. Later in the show, Sienna Guillory has a dream sequence where she sees the demon on the back of Jessica Alexander’s head and we are given cause to wonder if this is a possible explanation. The film never says one way or the other.

In some ways, the film could be The Exorcist (1973) but where the teenage girl is affected by an apparently supernatural form of anorexia as opposed to possession by a demon. The plots of both films follow very similar paths – the daughter manifesting symptoms and vomiting, the anxiously concerned mother, the consulting of medical experts and psychiatrists who have no answer, while here we even the attempts at an exorcism of sorts.

The film reaches a frustrating end where after a harrowing descent, Sienna Guillory and apparently sees something light up in the sky that is reflected on her eyeballs. Whether this alludes to the Jessica Alexander’s insistence that everything is coming to an end and it is some type of apocalyptic event is again not at all clear.

Trailer here

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