Directed by Ruth Paxton, “A Banquet” is a horror drama that follows a mother, Holly, whose love is put to the test after her daughter gets mentally sick and suffers from the horrors of potential supernatural possession under the spell of which she starts starving herself. The film depicts food as a thematic element to explore the complexities of its characters and hence tries to decipher what “A Banquet” is all about.
‘A Banquet’ Plot Summary
The events of “A Banquet” surround the Hughes family. We have the mother, Holly (Sienna Guillory), and her two daughters, Betsey (Jessica Alexander), the elder one, and Isabelle (Ruby Stokes), the younger one. Betsey undergoes a supernatural experience in the woods that leaves her unable to eat. However, according to her, it is not an eating disorder. She instead stresses that she has been chosen for a higher purpose. Holly, her mother, has to make up her mind whether she will allow Betsy’s newly-realized dogma or seek grace for her.
It’s intimate, it’s psychological, and it’s powerful. But the fact that “A Banquet” juggles adolescence, isolation, grief, and body issues makes it unfocused. And when the revelations arrive, and we realize what is actually going on, the film feels like a letdown. A Banquet, in exploring its psychological arc, relies as much on the viewer’s interpretation as it does on its plot.
The Family That Isn’t
At the very beginning of “A Banquet,” we are given a rough sketch of the three main characters and the conflicts they are going through. Holly is a single mother whose husband died only recently and who has to bring up two teenage girls on her own. Betsy, the elder one, a senior in high school, cannot make up her mind about college plans. She is also unable to find passion in any direction.
Isabelle, the younger one, is much like her sister, uninspired. Furthermore, she suffers from an inferiority complex that results from her sister Betsy being her mother’s “special one.” Betsy’s attitude is commonplace for Holly, who, in a moment of utter anger, deems it anorexia, quite common in privileged women who are obsessed with losing weight due to the fear of gaining it.
Day by day, Betsy’s behavior and fits are pushing her towards the edge of snapping. Isabella is also fed-up with her sister and ends up forcing food down her throat as she sleeps. They live together, but there is almost no interaction other than during dinners. We also come to know that Holly, as a child, was sent to a psychiatric facility in June. Thus, as we see, there is a reigning disconnect in the family. It’s possible that Betsy’s “supernatural” experience might have been caused by all of the negativity and aloofness in her family.
There is a question that arises here: Why Did It Not Take The Younger One Who Was Probably More Vulnerable?
Well, here is the main chain of events that bring horrors in the life of the Hughes family and These events might help us to understand what happened and why it actually happened.
- Betsy goes into the woods and returns possessed.
- According to June, Betsy put up a show of “possession” when she was a child.
- Betsy takes Holly to the woods and asks her if she has ever wondered what the point of everything is. Holly is perplexed and asks, “How do you know this?”
- Holly was sent to a psychiatric facility when she was a child.
Now, let’s break these events down, one by one.
The Experience of the Unknown
One night, Betsy attends a party with her classmates. At one point, she feels attracted to a voice coming from the woods while a blood-red moon shines above. (The Red Moon is a symbol of the end of times in the Book of Joel in the Bible.) She goes into the woods and comes out a changed woman. This new Betsy believes that she is a vessel for some kind of cataclysmic event.
And interestingly, a part of this change is her refusal to eat. The repulsion to food is made to look like a very unusual yet plausible way to convey possession. Not having food has always been judged as some form of sickness. “A Banquet” opts for this and turns it around to give it a touch of dread, be it scraping peas off a plate or spreading pepper over avocado toast. Extreme close-ups of tongues, mouths, and eyeballs are also used to show Betsy’s changing perceptions and outlooks, making the most common features alien.
The Show Of “Possession”
When we find the film about to fall into the clutches of stagnation, the arrival of June (Lindsay Duncan), Betsy’s grandmother, livens up the story. The penetrating nature of her words and gaze compels us to think that she knows what’s going on with Betsy. However, this is only until she tells Betsy to stop her “show.” She believes that whatever Betsy is doing is only “fiction.” This is due to the fact that Holly, whom June had committed to a psychiatric facility when she was a child, has recovered completely. Thus, all that Betsy needs is the same “help” that Holly received. There is also a possibility that June might just know what’s going on for real. But since she got Holly out of it via scientific help, she wants to do the same with Betsy.
Betsy reveals to her mom that she has been “chosen.” We have no evidence to confirm that what she did at her grandmother’s place was deliberate or under the influence of something. But the way she is, we, as the viewers, cannot help but think that what she did was indeed under the influence of probably the same thing that controls her now. But, like her mother, Holly, her grandmother sees it all as a “show.”
The Fiction That’s Real
Before returning home from the rehab center, Betsy takes Holly to the place where she had the experience that started, if not resumed, everything happening to her. “Haven’t you ever wondered what the point of everything is?” she asks Holly. “How can you know this?” Holly responds. This can mean two things:
Holly is wondering how Betsy is able to tell what she is going through. Or She has been through the same experience as Betsy (but is in denial of it.)
A Cured Childhood
A conversation happens between Holly and June after Betsy tells Holly about her experience in the woods. It is clear for June that what Betsy is doing is fiction, and Molly, through her constant affection, is playing along with it. Holly clearly knows that her mother will never understand what Betsy is going through, because she didn’t understand her own daughter (Holly) when she underwent the same (or so it seems).
June sent Holly to a psychiatric facility where she was “pumped full of lithium.” She did return cured. And this is what makes June believe that Betsy, too, can be cured. While it is not believable that a scientific procedure would cure someone (Holly, in this case) of possession (if at all, she showed the same signs as Betsy does), it might have just turned that part dormant, only for it to be revived by her elder daughter or her first-born. After all, Holly, too, is seen mumbling the incantations while staring at the red moon, just like Betsy, towards the very end of “A Banquet.” As a result, Betsy’s “show” during her childhood is no longer a show, but rather something (a genetic, mental disorder) she received from her mother. Thus the question of why Isabella was not possessed despite being more vulnerable is deemed void. Possession is likely to occur on the first-born.)
‘A Banquet’ Ending Explained: Does Holly Die?
Right before “A Banquet” ends, we see a bright white light cover Holly. We do not know whether it was just as Betsy had foretold about her mother being the main vessel, or perhaps God’s grace. But after all this darkness, amidst which she never stopped loving her girl and cried out to Jesus Christ, forgiveness makes more sense (also, the bright light is a sign of grace from heaven).
There is another suggestion. Everything in “A Banquet” begins when Betsy sees the Red Moon. While at first, a red moon does make sense as a clear sign of the end of days, it is also a mystic symbol that speaks of reunion with the divine, which is a result of the end of days. While in the woods, Betsy mentions to Holly that there was a hollow in her earlier that has now been filled with faith. Faith isn’t something that we associate with evil, but rather it is something we associate with God. This also lets the end event, that of Holly being covered up with light, make more sense. So, in this way, “A Banquet” almost ends up not just mixing up but rather connecting demonic haunting with divine possession.
Tension, shown throughout, is one of the thematic elements of the film, one that, despite having the ability to offer an intense catharsis, doesn’t do so due to its bleak representation. A Banquet makes use of body horror and exorcism imagery as a means to establish its arc; something that somehow manages to keep us going till we see an end to it. But unfortunately, it feels like the film is throwing multiple theories at us to find out which one will stick. Interpreting these connections between eating disorders, tension, religion, metaphysics, and eschatology becomes no less than an exercise. Overall, “A Banquet” makes for a psychological horror film that remains ambiguous for its own good.
“A Banquet” is a 2022 Psychological Thriller film directed by Ruth Paxton.