16 April 2024

Overlook Film Festival Review – Who Invited Them (2022)

Adam and Margo have bagged an exclusive property on the exclusive Canyon Heights Estate for a knock-down price. In the aftermath of their housewarming, an uninvited couple Tom and Brooke emerge from the bathroom. After an initially frosty exchange, they settle for a nightcap and so ensues a manic night of bluffing and deception.

Director Duncan Birmingham‘s dark horror-comedy of manners is designed to make you uncomfortable. At times you can almost smell the smugness and taste the desperate jealousy. From the get-go, we are exposed to a cavalcade of self-satisfied, overly sincere fakers obsessed with their own agendas.

Not least the party host Adam, a chap so passively-aggressively pompous that you would set his genitals on fire in a heartbeat and then hide the hoses. A manbaby who displays his prized vinyl like a shrine to his own cultural godliness yet gatekeeps it like a spoilt child.

Only his partner Margo seems remotely humanised as she cringes at her simpering husband. However, even she is soon to morph into an egotistical coke-fuelled mega bitch. Even so, she comes across as a kindly woman driven to shithousery by prolonged overexposure to her husband’s societal neediness.

I won’t be alone in wishing the party would be invaded by masked motherfuckers with machetes à la For the Sake of Vicious. But this film is more concerned with emotional violence and the deceptive shadows cast by cruel gaslighting than showboating carnage. As such, the cast is soon thinned to its bare bones as our two couples square up over an exhausting bout of intense one-upmanship and thinly veiled hostility.

Determined to wring every last ounce of cattiness from our protagonists the witty screenplay takes every opportunity to escalate matters. The exchanges veer from Machiavellian flattery to hideously patronising button pushing and back again. It is fabulous fun rubbernecking as Tom and Brooke tear lumps out of Adam and Margo’s egos whilst flirting shamelessly with their craving for acceptance.  

Once outright insults and blatant invitations to swing are vocalised, Tom and Brooke are what Alan Partridge would refer to as “sex people”, the gloves come off and the true fingernail raking can begin. Twists are revealed and true colours unfurled on the masts of malcontent.

For a movie with such machine-gun dialogue and slender runtime, it is a surprise to find pacing issues. There is a semi-paranormal subplot involving Adam and Margo’s sleep-disturbed son that hangs around doing the narrative equivalent of kicking tires. Also, there’s a largely redundant story arc that could have walked to Mordor with the Hobbits in the time it takes to unleash its payload.

Yet, the nasty bitching and embarrassing confrontations keep us engaged thanks to spunky writing and some gloriously well-judged performances.

Ryan Hansen gives Adam an air of fragile insecurity to temper his propensity for lameness and sycophancy. It is a credit to him that we root for this spineless corporate wannabee at all. Melissa Tang plays Margo with a quiet sarcasm that transitions seamlessly into fiery ex-rock guitarist when pushed.

Timothy Granaderos Jr. channels his inner early Rob Lowe with a spectacular turn as the slimy Tom. Think of a fully evil more narcissistic version of Barney from How I Met Your Mother and you are halfway there. The filterless force of nature Brooke is played perfectly by Avital Ash who pitches her deranged anarchism somewhere between playfully slutty and downright dangerous.

It is this great cast, acidic script, and lively sense of dark humour that prevents Who Invited Them from becoming a jaded also-ran in the home invasion stakes. Those who relish the Schadenfreude of pretentious parties and skip fire stench of materialistic warfare are in for a treat.

★★★

WORLD PREMIERE

Social Drama, Black Horror Comedy | USA | 2022 | 80 mins | Not Yet Rated | Overlook Film Festival | Dir. Duncan Birmingham | Cast: Ryan Hansen, Timothy Granaderos Jr., Melissa Tang, Avital Ash


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