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TIFF Review: ‘A Banquet’ is a Supernatural Horror Mystery that’s More Style than Substance

October 31, 2021Ben MK

A serious illness that affects tens of millions of people in North America alone, eating disorders have been the topic of such films as Girl, Interrupted and Black Swan. With her feature debut, A Banquet, however, director Ruth Paxton explores the subject through a distinctly supernatural lens, in this slow-burning drama about a distraught mother whose eldest daughter becomes convinced that she's been chosen for an otherworldly, higher purpose.

A single mother to two teenage daughters, university-aged Betsey (Jessica Alexander) and her younger sister Isabelle (Ruby Stokes), Holly (Sienna Guillory) has only recently begun to move on after the suicide of her terminally ill husband. However, when Betsey goes to a party with some friends one night and wanders into the woods after becoming entranced by a blood red moon, it marks the beginning of another ordeal that will test Holly's emotional resolve beyond anything she ever imagined. Returning home with the belief that the world is coming to an end and that she is to play an integral role in the rebirth of the universe, Betsey stops eating completely. Yet, despite Holly's many desperate attempts to get her daughter to regain her appetite, Betsey also never seems to lose any weight, a fact that bears striking resemblance to a haunting ghost story told by Holly's mother, June (Lindsay Duncan). Could something supernatural have possessed Betsey, resulting in her strange condition? Or is this simply a psychological trauma that has manifested itself as a physical abnormality?

What follows will keep audiences guessing till the very end, as Paxton and screenwriter Justin Bull slowly unravel the mystery of Betsey's unique situation. However, when the true meaning behind her cataclysmic vision is finally unveiled, it might still leave some viewers wanting. Suffice to say, A Banquet manages to serve up quite the feast when it comes to its moody atmosphere and general sense of foreboding. As far as putting all its ingredients together into one compelling dish, though, this is one film that's less than the sum of its parts.

A Banquet screened under the Discovery programme at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival. Its runtime is 1 hr. 37 min.

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