“After you’ve taken everything, what will be left?” THE FEAST (Lee Haven Jones, 2021)

First things first, and this is a first – the first time THECANNIBALGUY.COM has reviewed a Welsh film. They are not as rare as we imagine (particularly in Wales) but the fortunate coincidence of Welsh language and cannibalism has not raised its head before. Luckily, this one makes up for lost time – Dread Central called it

“a delightful, sumptuous dish from start to finish”

And that is exactly what we are served – a fancy dinner party in which the hired help, Cadi (Annes Elwy) has a lot more to offer than just laying the table and preparing the feast. The feast is to be held in the Welsh mountain home of a rich family who clearly owe their fortune to outrages against the environment. They have invited a sleazy businessman, Euros (Rhodri Meilir), who has been drilling for oil on their land.

The film opens with the contrast of the green fields (and how green is Wales!) being penetrated, raped, by a giant exploration-drilling rig. A man standing next to the machine is then seen staggering through the fields, only to collapse with blood streaming from his ears.

This is a cannibalism blog, and the cannibalism takes place near the end of the film, so I apologise for spoilers. The Feast is on Hulu or available for purchase or rent on the usual platforms, so if you’re going to watch it, and don’t like spoilers, go and watch it then come back (please) for my analysis. Then again, the Director recommends watching it several times, saying you’ll get more out of it each time. So it is not really a mystery, more a mood piece, and knowing what is going to happen may actually enhance the enjoyment of the story.

Cadi as a hired kitchen hand is the epitome of the saying “you can’t get good help anymore” taking ages to actually do any work, and getting it all wrong – she knows nothing of human etiquette. Turns out she is a nature goddess, disturbed by the drilling, taking the body of a woman who has just drowned, and she knows the humans in that house are up to no good. She is badly frightened by the sound of the father, the local (and clearly corrupt) politician, shooting rabbits. Her hands excrete mud, and she stains the pure white tablecloth she has just laid out; messy nature is invading the stark and sterile human house. When he brings the rabbits for her to skin, she flees into the fields, where one of the sons tells her that’s why his father likes to come back to Wales from Parliamentary duties in London.

The MP’s wife Glenda (Nia Roberts) takes over the skinning of the rabbits, much to Cadi’s disgust. Nature, as Tennyson told us, is red in tooth and claw, and rabbits routinely come to a sticky end by way of fox or disease or trap. But Cadi, who it seems is not too worried by bloodshed when it comes to humans, is horrified not at the slaughter and plunder, but at the use of technology to do it – guns, oil rigs. Nothing natural enters this human world, because civilisation, in its modern technological form of patriarchal capitalism, is built on the rejection of animality and domination of nature.

The man most guilty is Euros (Rhodri Meilir), an oil driller who is hoping to use the dinner party to persuade the family’s neighbours to allow drilling on their land. Euros arrives in his fancy car and admonishes Cadi for slacking off, whereupon he drops (perhaps with her magical intervention) a bottle of expensive wine. Told to clean it up, Cadi tastes the wine on the driveway and then inserts a piece of the broken bottle in her vagina, with no sign of any discomfort. This acts as a vagina dentata; she subsequently uses it to kill one of the sons by offering him sex.

He’s the one who had left medical school to prepare for a triathlon, part of his training involving eating nothing but raw meat. And he’s not the weirdest person there. Nor is his the most gruesome death.

Some people don’t like subtitles, but generally hearing the words in another language adds a dimension, a music or poetry, and this film would not have been as powerful in English, even though the patriarch is an MP who spends most of his time in London. As the Director put it,

“Our culture’s incredibly rich in terms of myths and legends.”

The film adapts various Welsh folk legends. One is the story of Blodeuwedd, who was made of flowers by two magicians in order to help their protégé, Lleu Llaw Gyffes, who’d been cursed by his mother never to take a human wife. Jones explained:

“This wizard harnessed the forces of nature and put her in a body of flesh and blood. But, of course, Blodeuwedd was very frustrated by that, and therefore decided to get her revenge. The character of Blodeuwedd is very definitely in the DNA of Cadi.”

The drilling site is called “The Rise”, a burial site that is considered sacred, although modern, rationalist people like Glenda scoff at this, claiming it was just a way to frighten children away from the fields. But Cadi is the goddess who was resting in The Rise, and they have disturbed her. She is out for revenge.

Freud wrote about the “death drive” which propels all life in the direction of death, a return to its original organic form. In The Future of an Illusion, he described how humans connect this death drive to nature, which is interpreted as the enemy of civilisation. Humanity therefore fights an unremitting war with nature, seen as the cause of the excruciating “riddle of death”, a war in which we may win every battle but, as mortals, we must lose the war.

German philosophers Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno wrote in Dialectic of Enlightenment that

“Human beings are so radically estranged from themselves and from nature that they know only how to use and harm each other.”

Humans invented the “seven deadly sins” to judge themselves and others. So now Cadi, or the goddess who controls her body, judges and executes judgement on the family according to their sins. The father represents greed (taking bribes even though he is already rich), the mother exhibits envy, trying to bully her friend, who is content being a simple farmer, into giving in to the oil company’s plans, and the sons exhibit wrath and lust (one is a drug addict who is furious with his family for confining him in the country, and the other has been fired from the hospital for raping sedated patients). Then there is Eunos, the skinny man who offers the perfect image of gluttony; the corrupt capitalist is voraciously eating everything left on their plates, his face plunged into the food, not bothering with cutlery. The mother, in a trance, butchers her son’s body and puts slices of his leg in front of the insatiable Eunos, who gobbles them down. This is the “feast” of the title, and it’s the last supper for that family.

Eunos falls into food catalepsy, and when he awakes, Glenda has a shotgun pointed into his mouth, and asks him the question that sums up the film, our society, Western civilisation and the era that has come to be called the Anthropocene.

“After you’ve taken everything, what will be left?”

The final scene of the film is a tour de force by Annes Elwy, no longer Cadi but now the goddess, covered in blood, at first smiling at her triumph, but then sinking into grief at the prospect that the war will continue until either humanity or nature (including us) is destroyed utterly.

Like Helen Mirren in The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, she is looking directly at us, the viewers, accusing us of complicity, both in the war and the cannibal feast.

The film scored a very respectable 82% on Rotten Tomatoes, meaning that four times more critics liked it than didn’t. Those who didn’t carped about it being slow in the first half, a criticism that is often levelled at movies sold as horror but offering more intelligent themes than just slasher gore. The acting is superb, the photography is stunning, particularly of the natural environment and the contrast with the stark family home, and the soundtrack is never less than interesting, and often (especially the Welsh songs) quite enchanting. Well worth seeing, and perhaps, as the Director suggests, more than once.

The unkindest cut: “Teeth” (Lichtenstein, 2007)

Six months into this blog, I ask you: have we actually defined cannibalism? I answer you (because it’s a rhetorical question): no, we have not.

The Oxford Dictionary says that a cannibal is “a person who eats the flesh of other human beings”. But what does “eat” mean, then? “Put (food) into the mouth and chew and swallow it.”  So then we have problems with zombies, who eat the flesh of other humans, but may or may not be “persons” (since they are dead, or undead). And with bulemics, who chew and swallow, but then bring it up again?

Why am I being such a pain about this? Because I like this film, and would love to fit it into my cannibal blog. But she, to put it politely, does not swallow

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Teeth is directed by Mitchell Lichtenstein, the son of far more famous pop artist Roy Lichtenstein. It is awkwardly defined as “comedy horror” which can be a problematic mix, and often ends up with silly movies like Eat the Rich. But this one works, although I didn’t find it terribly funny. I guess if you were sitting in a cinema watching a bunch of teenage boys squirm, that might have been good for a laugh.

Dawn

Dawn O’Keefe (Jess Weixler) is a teenage spokesperson for a Christian abstinence group called the “Promise”. This is a terrifying crowd – young teens can be pretty off-putting anyway, but this lot want to chant stuff about Eve and the Devil and Sin, and do so with a flint-eyed seriousness that is disturbing (or funny if you see it from a certain angle).

Dawn has a talent which is not known to anyone, including her, or the various males who try to assault and penetrate her: she has a vagina dentata: a toothed vagina. As a tiny girl, she almost bites off the finger tip of her step-brother who is doing naughty things under her swim suit in the wading pool, but the talent comes into its own when a boy from the abstinence group decides that God will forgive and understand if he takes advantage of their solitary swim, knocks her almost unconscious and then starts to rape her. Well, God might forgive, but Dawn’s lower teeth don’t, and he discovers a new and very agonising weight loss method.

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The vagina dentata is an ancient myth that is found in many folk legends from a wide range of peoples. Freud and the classical theorists liked to say that it is a representation of the fear that little boys have of their penis-less mothers, which leads them to assume that they are next for castration, either by her or by their fathers who are angry at their budding Oedipal desires. Joseph Campbell in The Masks of God talks about a New Mexico myth in which “vagina girls” ate men who came to their house for sex. We’re getting close to cannibalism now, I think.

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It’s a huge subject, covering quite a lot of what goes in the festering sewers of our unconscious minds. If you wish to research it more (and it is fascinating stuff), Barbara Creed has covered the subject comprehensively in The Monstrous Feminine.

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So: young Dawn, played brilliantly by Jess Weixler, whom you may recognise as the investigator Robyn in the TV series The Good Wife, believes in saving herself for marriage, a view that is considered somewhat old fashioned now, but still resonates in many parts of the world, particularly the Bible belts. Those around her, including her step-brother with the disfigured finger, feel that she should “put out” as they say, but when she does, boy are they sorry. Creed looks closely at the “taboo of virginity” and Freud’s view that this arises from penis envy and frigidity. Men fear that women will castrate them, particularly when the loss of virginity is painful, as it clearly is to Dawn. Freud ignores the possibility that it is men’s irrational fear of the deadly power of the vagina that leads to fear of sexual intercourse. Brought up in this oppressive environment, Dawn is unaware of her power. The film unravels this power.

Weixler won the Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival “For a juicy and jaw-dropping performance”, and it was well deserved.

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You have to watch closely to catch the “banana split” gag

The horror of cannibalism is at least as much to do with their power to snap, bite and destroy as it is with their tendency to swallow (any old Jaws can do that). The vampire, without whom the Horror industry would be toothless (sorry), swallows, but only blood, not flesh. Yet it is the sharp teeth and the swallowing that gives vampires their welcome into at least the outer limits of cannibal fiction. Dawn is an unwilling but not totally innocent cannibal, because she soon figures out (through google) what it means to be the bearer of the vagina dentata.

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A film like this could easily degenerate into farce, and the celibate teens could end up laughable stereotypes of conservative bigots. Yet, Dawn takes us with her on her quest to understand what she is, what she wants, and what she can do to those who wish to force themselves on her. The logline states “every rose has its thorns”, and the trailer says “Something is wrong with Dawn O’Keefe”. But surely that’s not true – there is something very wrong with the rapists, and it gets a lot wronger as they get closer to the climax of their plans. One review said:

“What’s most important for Dawn is she discovers her vagina is not a curse but a source of power.”

Dawn at first thinks that her vagina dentata might be the “Adam within”, a forbidden male side of her character that causes gratuitous havoc. But in fact, the teeth are her defence and her weapon against injustice. With her extra teeth, and the ‘dawning’ of the realisation of her own power, Dawn is a superhero of the #MeToo age.

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The film has a respectable 80% on Rotten Tomatoes website, with the concensus being:

“Smart, original, and horrifically funny, Teeth puts a fresh feminist spin on horror movie tropes.”

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This poster was apparently banned

The final credits state:

No man was harmed

 

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