Is there a Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? genre? How do we classify movies like this? You know, movies that involve two couples (not familiar with each other and usually with an age difference) coming together, and as this quartet gets deeper into their night and their respected drinks, secrets come out. Sometimes the stories the characters share are real and appear with the intention to hurt and cut deep. And sometimes the tales fall into fiction and these exchanges exist to emotionally and mentally destroy. Premiering at The 2022 Overlook Film Festival, Duncan Birmingham casts us as party guests in his intriguing and engrossing film WHO INVITED THEM? Within the movie, the director shows a darkly familiar exploration of human manner, and the audience will witness how during one late night two couples (one in their 30s and the other in their 20s) meet for the first time and spend hours partaking in psychological warfare on each other.
In the prelude to the eventful night of games, Adam (Ryan Hansen) and Margo (Melissa Tang) buy the house of their dreams. However, as they settle into their upper-middle-class suburban household, they can’t help but feel some new house jitters. But scary dreams from their little boy and suspicious nighttime activities do not stop the family from throwing a fun house-warming party where they can show off their new and questionably large home. In spite of the over-eagerness from the hosts (at least from Adam), the guests seem desperate to leave, and disagreements between the couple have already started to arise. While the night is still young, only two guests remain, but neither Adam nor Margo seem to know them. Clad in sexy funeral attire, Tom (Timothy Granaderos) and Sasha (Perry Mattfeld) say they wandered in from next door and despite their creepy snooping behavior, they push all of the ego-buttons on Adam and quickly go from possible intruders to welcomed guests (at least for Adam, again).
But liquor (and drugs) serve as a natural social lubricant, so eventually the women bond over music and drugs, and the men bond over music and morbid stories. Adam and Margo want to relax and have fun, but Sasha and Tom want to turn a good time into a bizarrely awkward time. No matter what conversation topic arises, the neighbors manage to work in sex or murder. And when things get too weird, the guests refuse to leave and start to hold Adam and Margo emotionally and psychologically hostage. The vitriolic games begin and the interactions between the couples go from pleasant to vicious, and the frightening carnage on screen makes it hard to look away.
WHO INVITED THEM? presents strong acting from all four party-goers and excellent use of space as the film keeps a strong level of tension and interest despite our setting and cast focusing primarily on two couples and one house. One aspect of this intimate location and cast of characters is the ever-changing perspectives and alliances which makes it hard to decide who to root for. Should Adam and Margo be together? Is Margo overly suspicious? Are the neighbors who they say they are? What exactly is the game they are all playing and who makes the rules? And who will win? Birmingham uses a liminal space so the dialogue and acting become the main focus of the film. By eliminating elaborate sets or even multiple locations, the four stars of the film get more time to develop their chemistry. So, even when the film places attention largely on the interactions between the two couples, the audience becomes completely immersed in the events of the afterparty.
When pitched to me, WHO INVITED THEM? was labeled as a horror comedy, which does not make sense. The hurtful banter thrown around in the living room borders on humorous but avoids the necessary comedic timing to actually make the comments land as jokes. Instead, the four characters react in more hateful ways as they demonstrate that none of them might have redeeming qualities. While watching, let yourself become the fifth member of this uncomfortable entanglement and let the dialogue direct all of your attention, so when the climax comes the reveal provides some surprises. So, just accept this unsettling nightcap and sip on your toxic tonic as you witness resentment, distrust, and an understanding of why it might be bad to get too neighborly.