Gwledd (The Feast)

24/08/22

The Cameo, Edinburgh

A Welsh language horror feature on general release, showing at a cinema near me – a good 200 miles away from my native land? How can I resist? (Answer: I can’t.)

Another lure is the actor Annes Elwy. We were mesmerised by her performance as scary teenager Mia in the bilingual TV series Craith (Hidden); it was clear that hers was a name we’d hear again. And here she is, playing another scary teenager. No doubt she’s just as skilled in portraying different character types, but – ooh – she is adept at this. This time, she’s Cadi – a sullen, watchful kind of girl, a kitchen hand in the village pub, drafted in to help the local MP and his wife to host a dinner party for some important guests.

But something is rotten in the state of Cymru. Gwyn (Julian Lewis Jones) and Glenda (Nia Roberts) might seem successful: check out their swanky new house, stark and incongruous in the lush Welsh countryside. But they’re dancing with the devil, allowing local businessman, Euros (Rhodri Meilir), to drill their land for precious minerals. Their neighbour, Mair (Lisa Palfrey), is appalled. “What if She awakens?” she asks, when Glenda tries to persuade her to let Euros mine ‘the Rise’, part of which is on her farm.

But of course, She is already awake – and ready to exact revenge…

So far, so good. Gwledd, written by Roger Williams, has all the hallmarks of the folk horror films we love. Sadly, it has some issues too, which mean it doesn’t quite hit the mark.

The first problem is its glacial pace. I’m all for a bit of mounting dread, but the first hour is so slow it’s almost soporific. It’s like the scenes are being stretched to fill the running time, which isn’t a good look. And then there’s the recaps for the hard of thinking; director Lee Haven Jones needs to trust his audience more. I don’t need to see a flashback to a piece of glass being hidden: I noted it just thirty minutes ago; it was a memorable thing. In the end, the story is just a bit too obvious, and – although the stakes are definitely raised in the final stretches – it’s too little and too late.

There are plus points. Elwy is wonderfully enigmatic in this role, and Steffan Cennydd (Guto) and Sion Alun Davies (Gweirydd) clearly relish playing the hosts’ creepily twisted sons. The soundtrack, by Samuel Sim, is very atmospheric too, and it’s impressive to see how much gore can be wrung from what is obviously a small budget.

But in the end, even though I really, really want to like it, Gwledd feels like a bit of a let-down.

3 stars

Susan Singfield

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