Who Invited Them

As Adam (Ryan Hansen, TV's 'Veronica Mars,' 'A Million Little Things') marvels over their luck buying a dream home in the Hollywood Hills, Margo (Melissa Tang, Netflix's 'The Kominsky Method') frets about their young son Dylan’s disturbing nightmares and the black car that idles in the street in front of their house since they moved in. She’s also far less enthusiastic about the house warming party that mostly consists of Adam’s work colleagues, most of whom are planning their getaway strategy as he pushes another round.   Margot and Adam relax when everyone’s gone until they both discover that neither knows that stylish young couple each had assumed was a guest of the other and that that couple is still in their house in “Who Invited Them.”

Laura's Review: C+

The feature debut of writer/director Duncan Birmingham showcases how to use one unique location to anchor a psychological thriller.  Unfortunately, the film’s exquisite build bursts like an overblown balloon at its climax, the psychological warfare so well utilized up until that point not given solid underpinnings rendering the sudden violence and gore too random.  It is a frustrating let down given just how well Birmingham and his cast have managed to slowly turn the screws, one couple exposing the unspoken truths of the other while we squirm in our seats.

While we can see that Margot finds Adam a bit too boastful while he views her as not obsequious enough to his boss, they seem fine when left to their own devices, so the emergence of Tom (Timothy Granaderos, Netflix's '13 Reasons Why') and Sasha (Perry Mattfeld, TV's 'In the Dark') from the couple’s bathroom, where they have been for quite some time, immediately raises the stakes.  Ever ready to impress, Adam is hospitable while Margot’s suspicions make her more hostile, but the black clad intruders have a great story – they’re their new neighbors and decided to crash the party when they discovered a guest’s car had blocked their own car in.

Out come Adam’s ‘special’ old fashioned cocktails.  Sasha laughs off Margot’s insinuation she and Tom were having sex in their bathroom by admitting they were doing lines of coke.  Margot shocks Adam by indulging with Sasha and the couples split off by gender, Tom getting Adam to admit the shocking truth of just how he was able to afford the house, something he’s largely kept secret from Margot, while Sasha stokes Margot’s ego by remembering how she once saw Margot’s band at a festival and getting her to call her ‘sexy pants’ partner for a reunion gig.  The idea that Tom and Sasha just might be swingers hangs heavily in the air, but when the new couple’s provocations go too far, they seem determined not to leave.  Meanwhile, Adam and Margot’s friends Teeny (Tipper Newton) and Frank (Barry Rothbart), who took Dylan home for a sleepover to relieve the party hosts, encounter trouble on the road, then with their diminutive houseguest who cannot sleep without the stuffed monkey he’s left behind.

Birmingham takes Chekhov’s gun principle about not introducing extraneous details too far not once, but twice, first involving a literal gun, then that stuffed monkey, introducing a side thread that gets as lost as Teeny driving through the twisty Hollywood hills.  But one must admire his location, those roads like a maze obscuring Adam and Margot’s house, presented by cinematographer Bruce Thierry Cheung like a glowing glass jewel.  The mid century modern features multiple spaces for characters to split off and sneak around in, the last being a closet where Margot makes a horrifying discovery.  And if Birmingham dismisses narrative economy introducing two details, a third slams home as a whammy of a finale.

The four principals deftly play the power shifts occurring between Adam and Margot as well as the two couples, at least until Birmingham loses the thrust of his own final reveal.  “Who Invited Them” is a decent film with some exceptional attributes which reminds of a better one, 2015’s “The Overnight.”

Robin's Review: C

"Who Invited Them" begins streaming on Shudder on 9/1/22.