Filmmaker Ruth Paxton makes her feature debut with psychological horror film “A Banquet,” set to world premiere at the Toronto Intl. Film Festival. The Scottish helmer has already won accolades for her short films, and she is developing feature “The Flaming Heart.” HanWay reps worldwide rights to “A Banquet,” which will be released by IFC Midnight in the U.S. In the film, widowed mother Holly (Sienna Guillory) is pushed to the limit when her teenage daughter Betsey (Jessica Alexander) experiences a supernatural enlightenment, and insists that her body is no longer her own but in service to a higher power. Betsey refuses to eat but loses no weight as the family wrestles with questions of faith and manipulation. Paxton gives her producers tons of credit for the success they shot during the pandemic as well. ‘A Banquet’ screens Sept. 10 at the Toronto Intl. Film Festival.
What was the genesis of the film?
It was written by Justin Bull, who is a screenwriter based in Boston. And originally it was set there, but we decided we would relocate it to the U.K. So it became a kind of different family. I can see from Justin’s perspective that he was interested in the idea of faith and what people believe in now that we live in an increasingly secular society. There was also the kind of character of Betsey being a teenager, transitioning from high school to university and kind of looking forward to the future that might not be around for long.
What drew you to the material?
So there’s something about control there that I thought was interesting, but for me, and for my read into it, was very different. It’s the first film I’ve directed that I haven’t written, but it was the first script I’ve read that felt incredibly true to me. And I understood the characters, I think from a different point of view because I’m not a religious person that I don’t understand that way of thinking. And so I kind of looked into different aspects of all of them — things we believe and don’t believe. And you know, my route in was to do with the psychology of the characters and to do with kind of what it is to believe and that something bad might happen if you eat, and how that links to disordered eating patterns and those kinds of things. And … part of my pitch was that I didn’t want at any point anybody to feel comfortable.
This the kind of horror I’m interested in, kind of, I guess, transcendental horror, where it’s much more about the darkness within us than anything external. And I’m a person with anxiety. I’ve been diagnosed with a mood disorder for years now. And so for me, the scariest experiences I’ve had in life have always been stuff that’s originated in my own head. So I kind of knew that world really well and that’s what I distilled into the film.
The textures in the film were so visceral: the surfaces of the house, the clothes, and especially the food.
I’m really glad to hear that … the textures registered because that’s a huge part of what I get excited about when I’m going to direct something — I’m always banging on about texture. The way we treat food — it’s kind of this, this food-porn-slash-body-type vibe going on. So I was equally inspired by the photography from “The Chef’s Table” as I was from [David] Cronenberg.