Review: A girl’s decision leads to horror for her mother in well-made ‘A Banquet’

A woman looking up to the sky with trees in the background.
Jessica Alexander as Betsey in Ruth Paxton’s “A Banquet.”
(IFC Midnight)
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The slow-burn British horror film “A Banquet” is aimed squarely and mercilessly at parents, and especially at moms and dads whose troubled teens no longer resemble the carefree youths they thought them to be. Muted and ambiguous — sometimes to a fault — “A Banquet” is well acted and well crafted and should resonate with viewers who have had experiences similar to those of the movie’s perpetually anxious mother.

Sienna Guillory plays Holly, a widow struggling to raise two daughters after her husband’s suicide. When the eldest, Betsey (Jessica Alexander), has what she proclaims to be a divine vision, the 17-year-old stops eating . Holly wonders if the girl has become anorexic — or if she’s going through a belated phase of teen rebellion before heading off to college. But it becomes clear that something even stranger is going on when months pass and Betsey’s weight never drops.

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Directed by Ruth Paxton from a Justin Bull script, “A Banquet” is more concerned with the disquiet Betsey’s starvation diet introduces into this already stressed-out household than it is with exploring the supernatural causes of her condition. For one thing, Betsey’s stubbornness widens the rift between Holly and her own mother, June (Lindsay Duncan), who has always been hypercritical. The crisis also exposes how tough it has been for Holly to maintain her family’s suburban London lifestyle with one income.


What’s missing from “A Banquet” is the kind of gut-level shocks and narrative payoffs that viewers might — not unreasonably — expect from a genre film. Aside from some bickering and eeriness, the movie’s pitch rarely varies. A scene where Betsey’s sister angrily shoves cold cuts into Betsey’s sleeping mouth is one of the rare exciting moments. And as the story moves toward its climax, it leaves a lot unresolved.

But this is all by design. Paxton and Bull appear to be mostly interested in Holly’s feelings of failure as a mother and her worry that she’s lost her daughter forever. At one point, Betsey asks her mom, “What if this is just me now?” and Holly’s mortified expression alone is plenty disturbing. Who needs ghosts or demons when parenthood can be so nerve-racking?

'A Banquet'

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes

Playing: In limited release and on VOD starting Feb. 18