There’s a lot going on in “A Forest Feast,” an atmospheric horror with a family that was tested while trying to recover from the tragedy. Interesting themes centering on anxiety, occupation, motherhood, nutrition (and lack thereof), doomsday fears, hysteria, and faith are funneled through many generations of feminine trauma lenses. And while it’s a lot of fun to roll out countless plates at this movie’s buffet, director Ruth Paxton and screenwriter Justin Bull bit them more than they chewed, struggling to bring their main comments into focus.
Holly (Sienna Gilori) is slowly coming to the end of her mind. Annoyed by the tragic suicide of her ailing husband a few months ago, the anxious widow is trying to regain her family life by maintaining some resemblance to normalcy despite the slow pace of family finances. Her eldest daughter Betsy (Jessica Alexander) has been going through a difficult life since she witnessed her father’s death. The 17-year-old barbarian, caught up in endless questions about his once bright future prospects and the futility of life. She runs to school, separating herself from the kiss, and locks her grief in the Goth-Girl wardrobe. But in the midst of all the turmoil, Holly managed to keep her youngest daughter Isabel (Ruby Stokes) and her arrogant, caustic mother June (Lindsay Duncan, who threatened to run away with the show) satisfied.
However, Holly faces her toughest challenge when Betsy returns from a party one night with a magical whisper and spiritually enchanted under the red moon of blood. She confesses to her mother that her skin is shaking, and she suffers from extreme nausea when food is around. At first, Holly takes it to a bad hangover. But as the days go by, her daughter’s attitudes and appetite change drastically, leading to a horrific, violent outburst when Bates throws away her caring boyfriend Dom (Cain Jazaz) and forces him to eat. Doctors are shocked to see the mysterious condition of the excited teenager, because it is nothing viral and his weight remains unchanged. Betsy insists that her body is now serving something bigger than her, yet Holly suspects that something bad is going on.
While filmmakers have found great success in linking the dynamics of a four-woman relationship to pain, anger, and resentment that have been allowed to escalate over time, the death penalty may have eased somewhat. To expand the narrative, the character’s perspective often changes when it is helpful to focus on the grieving, bedridden mother, or potentially demonic daughter. The movie puts both the heroes on the same floor while there really should be an influential storyteller in this pair. Giving the same weight to both perspectives could be a clever strategy to give us an idea of who is capable of this weak relationship, but it has not been made clear for sure. And while it’s interesting as Bitsy’s relationship with June and Isabel breaks down (June’s growing adversity and Isabel’s parallel loss), it opens the door to melodramatic, predictable scenes that make the third act emotionally inactive and dissatisfied.
Technically, Paxton explores layered storytelling methods to further enhance the narrative’s moody magnetism through meaningful imaginative aesthetics and ghostly soundscapes. He brutally demonstrates an visual and auditory skill in creating and capturing these characters in the underlying, intimate world – from staging abusive family conflicts within their domestic limitations to capturing Betsy’s intense fear of food through higher, sweeter word designs. Their house, with its dark walls, sharp corners and awkward layout, symbolizes the claustrophobic mentality of these women. Although these designs reinforce the themes of the film, much of this craft occurs in the first half of the story, fading into the fixed second half, which ends in confusion.
The filmmakers raised some interesting points, but it became an exercise in frustration to explain the calculated relationship between chaotic eating habits, spiritual and religious, medieval martyrdom. Any real fear other than a sympathetic humanistic perspective, or truly uncomfortable or restless, is sure to make its debut in this feature-length management, but much more vague for its own good. It is clear that Paxton and Bull are busy removing themselves from their modern inspiration – predecessors such as “Tech Shelter” and “Melancholia”. Nonetheless, their tribute fails to reach the same volatile crescent of those films, as the audience’s investment in the characters and their hardships diminishes.