Duncan Birmingham’s Who Invited Them is the kind of comedy-horror-thriller that is slickly entertaining enough to distract you from its faults, at least for most of its runtime. It’s marred by being, even at only 81 minutes, too long for its own good, and the characterization drops in and out of plausibility depending on what’s most convenient. But it has an engaging cast–Ryan Hansen (Dick Casablancas!), Melissa Tang, Timothy Granaderos, and Perry Matfield–and a darkly playful spirit; it feels like everyone here is having fun, and for the most part, that fun is infectious.
Adam (Hansen) and Margo (Tang) have just moved into an impressive house in Beverly Hills. Adam, who has yuppie aspirations and longs for all the trappings of success and taste, thinks the new place is a massive win; he immediately throws a housewarming party to show it off, something his friends are snippily defensive of. Margo is less comfortable with the “bougie” lifestyle they seem to be approaching–are they overextending themselves? Are they trying too hard? Is any of this really authentic? On the surface, the party goes well, but we can see all the little cracks, especially in the moments of frustration and eye-rolling. The mood is strained, but it seems like Adam and Margo will end the night with their marriage intact and their grievances swallowed, at least for now.
But it turns out they’ve overlooked two remaining party guests, Tom (Granaderos) and Sasha (Matfield), who sheepishly confess that they weren’t really invited–they’re just neighbors who came over to complain about the noise and wound up unexpectedly enjoying themselves.
Tom and Sasha are younger, cooler, more glamorous, and more confident, and they lure Adam and Margo into extending the night a little while longer: a line of coke here, some casually proposed group sex there, a poke at some not-so-buried resentments, an encouragement to vent frustrations …. The evening veers back and forth between danger and allure, discomfort and intrigue, with Tom and Sasha playing their sexiness–and sexual ambiguity–right to the charming, provocative hilt. (It is a truth universally acknowledged that in a horror movie, anyone who proposes unconventional sex is probably diabolical.) They could have stepped right out of Cruel Intentions or Bad Influence, and their performances are a lot of fun, as well they should be: they’re playing a game, and Adam and Margo are the ball.
It’s not hard to guess the truth about Tom and Sasha, and it’s certainly easy to see that they’re baiting and coaxing their new friends for reasons of their own. But what the film lacks in surprises, it makes up for in humor and execution, with some sharply observed and convincing relationship drama and nice sparks of cast chemistry. When Adam and Margo are finally forced to confront the central tension of this kind of politeness horror–what do you do when you’re faced with someone who isn’t obeying the social niceties but isn’t outright shattering them? When do you have to escalate to violence and the burning of social bridges?–the movie handles the suspense and vise-like tightening of horror really well.
As far as anything outside the party and its immediate aftermath, and outside of the Tom-Sasha-Margo-Adam circle, the less said, the better. Tipper Newton has the world’s most unnecessary subplot as a family friend hosting Adam and Margo’s son at a sleepover, and she spends most of the movie wandering around looking for the plot. She doesn’t need to be here, and the son–one of the child characters in movies who seem to exist solely to subtly convince the audience that they don’t want to reproduce–really doesn’t need to be there, nor do we need to know about his nightmares and bed-wetting and general wide-eyed creepiness. The movie is still fun, but these factors drag it down quite a bit.
On the other hand, it’s the only movie I can think of where someone accidentally drinks a dead hamster. Of course, it’s no oven cat.
Who Invited Them is streaming on Shudder.