★★★★ out of ★★★★★
A posh housewarming party fizzles out, due to a host who tries just a little too hard to impress. A couple of glamorous strangers stick around after everyone else clears out and the remainder of the evening becomes far more exciting than the hosts were ready for. Cringe-inducingly funny and immediately accessible, Who Invited Them had its world premiere at the Overlook Film Festival.
Directed by Duncan Birmingham
Do you know somebody who tries just a little too hard to impress? Might it actually be you? Sometimes I think that person could be me. Who Invited Them is a study of the perils of being THAT person.
Adam (Ryan Hansen) is an upwardly mobile venture capitalist who has just moved into the house of his dreams, a modern mini-mansion in the hills above Los Angeles. His wife, Margo (Melissa Tang) is quite self-conscious about the recent move, and their son, Dylan (Kalo Moss) is having nightmares in the new residence. But this transition is proof to Adam that he has finally achieved something important and he wants to show off this success with his colleagues and friend, and he has planned a big housewarming party to celebrate.
This is, however, a huge turn-off to the guests and the party has the opposite effect upon them than Adam anticipated. The event is an eye-roller, and soon enough, the guests find reasons to leave, and it quickly becomes a stampede out the door as they flee back to their homes. But one couple remains. A preposterously sexy and fashionable pair, Tom (Timothy Granaderos) and Sasha (Perry Mattfeld), who neither Adam nor Margo has a clue as to who they are.
They introduce themselves as the next-door neighbors and dropped in because their driveway was blocked, and it just so happens they like a good neighborhood party. Adam, of course, is elated to have some people to entertain, and the strangers insist on keeping the party going. Tom and Sasha have a mischievous and manipulative streak though, and dark secrets about the house and both couples are revealed.
The beauty of the story is that the audience is allowed to be a half step ahead of Adam and Margo, but a half step behind Sasha and Tom. You KNOW that there’s something awful in the works and there is enough of a bread crumb trail that the ending doesn’t come as a huge surprise. Getting to the ending though is so much fun. If you are watching this with someone who is prone to yelling at protagonists, be warned, the temptation to yell warnings to Adam and Margo is strong. And yet, you also want to see how it plays out.
It should be noted that Adam and Margo have terrific story arcs. Your initial impressions of them grow and change as the story goes on. Deep down, Adam is a good guy, even though he gives off strong asshole vibes, to begin with. Margo is a stressed-out mom at first, but she loosens up, and you really get a feeling that these are a couple who have been severely tested, but really do love each other. Tom and Sasha are terrific as charismatic and impish tricksters. They are fun villains and keep the story moving along briskly, elevating each little twist until the inevitable bloody conclusion. This is a home invasion film, wherein the victims don’t even know they have been invaded until it is too late.
If there is a flaw to the film it is that it seems to lose track of its internal clock at times. There is an amusing sub-plot buried in it about Margo’s friend and business partner Teeny (Tipper Newton), who is babysitting Dylan for the night. She is the potential rescue party, but the timing of her events and the events at the house throw the pacing of the movie off a bit as they don’t seem synchronized.
Overall, however, the script builds to its crescendo nicely. The mystery of the house guests gradually builds, and their manipulations get more and more audacious and the plot gets built in a slow boil that, when it pays off, feels completely earned.
This is Duncan Birmingham’s feature film directorial debut, having been a writer and executive producer for TV with Maron and Blunt Talk. In the Q&A session following the Overlook premiere, his easy and natural comedy timing was in full evidence. It was refreshing that the laughs in the movie were less punchline driven, as the humor and tragedy are embodied in the personalities of the characters with inherent flaws that we all can identify with.
It’s a confident script, with on-point acting delivery, and the movie was one of my favorite entries at the Overlook Film Festival. This film is so early in its cycle that it doesn’t have a rating, a poster, or a trailer out yet. As this information comes out, we at the Scariest Things will keep you posted, as this is a fun watch and the film deserves to get an appreciative audience.
It would likely earn an R-Rating for drug use, language, and violence, but it would be appropriate for teenage audiences. This movie will be most appreciated, however, by adults who have just bought a new house or feel like they are in a career that is status-driven and have had to endure a bootlicking colleague somewhere along the line.
Who Invited Them will be released on SHUDDER on September 1, 2022. Scariest Things stamp of approval, this is a crowd-pleaser!