I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.
Preston Barta // Features Editor
Some films throughout the years have been so disturbing that people have reportedly passed out or vomited in movie theaters. Each person has a sensitivity toward different elements. With that in mind, IFC Midnight’s latest slice of horror-tastic delight, A Banquet, directed by visionary newcomer Ruth Paxton, has its own brand of what-the-hell to claim your curiosity and put your stomach in knots.
A Banquet doesn’t exactly reach its level of uncomfortability because it contains blood and guts. While it does have its side orders of violence, the main entree of malaise comes through the close examination of everyday foods and products. Paxton uses unique micro lenses that get intimate with the function of food as it’s cooked, squished, or rots. The visceral reaction to these images is only amplified through the art of sound.
Horror and sound have always had a hand-in-glove relationship. But Paxton and her sound department really strike nerve-racking oil from the onset. The opening sees a man coughing, gargling and struggling to live. A Banquet delves into every possible decibel of a body’s function. This feeling sustains throughout the entire film, especially during scenes featuring the prep and consumption of food.
To set the narrative table, A Banquet centers on a widowed mother named Holly (Sienna Guillory) as her teenage daughter, Betsey (a fantastically committed Jessica Alexander), tests her. Rather than face the typical angst and hormones of the growing years of her child, Holly instead encounters something more sinister to swallow. Betsey experiences a peculiar case of enlightenment that gives her the belief that her body is no longer hers but in service of a higher power. This, of course, sets off an unsettling chain of events that blurs the lines between fantasy and reality (for both the characters and the audience).
Paxton’s work is not easily digestible. There are a lot of themes and ideas to chew on. Your gathering of these dangling thoughts will ultimately lead to your enjoyment of the material. A Banquet may not be a dish for everybody, but it’s undoubtedly a feast for the senses that sends the mind running with possibilities.
To dissect this further, Fresh Fiction spoke with Scottish filmmaker Ruth Paxton via Zoom Video earlier this week. In the discussion, we chat about the soundscape of her work, the visual language and the navigation of the story’s ambiguity. Watch it below, and catch A Banquet this weekend in select theaters or on digital and on-demand platforms!