Duncan Birmingham, who according to his IMDB bio wrote for the Weekly World News in high school and has gone on to write for TV and direct several short films, has made his feature film debut with the 2022 Shudder original, Who Invited Them. It’s a well-paced and decent psychological thriller with a large dollop of black humor, and though the plot hearkens back to some other films in the home invasion subgenre, it’s an entertaining enough way to spend eighty minutes.
Adam and Margo (played by Ryan Hansen and Melissa Tang, respectively) are a couple who have lucked into a great deal on a fairly swanky house in the Hollywood Hills. Right from the start, the dynamic between these two is evident: Adam is an insecure, obnoxious try-hard who is desperately trying to impress not only the bigwigs at his company, but also the old friends whose lifestyles he deems no longer good enough for him. Margo, who we discover gave up something of a promising career as an indie musician to marry Adam and have his child (whose name is Dylan; we’ll get back to him in a bit), is uncomfortable with all this showy display of wealth, and worries that they’re overextending themselves just to move in circles that she never really wanted to be a part of.
Not long after they move in, Adam insists on having a housewarming party, inviting mostly his work colleagues. Of course some of their old friends also attend, but they feel as out of place as Margo does, and make excuses to leave early. Throughout the evening, Adam is cringingly pretentious, curating music from his hipster-esque vinyl collection and making a big show of plying everyone with precious artisan cocktails. Margo tries to hide in the kitchen the whole time to avoid the awkwardness, and in general, it seems like no one at the party—whether their old buddies or their new work contacts—appears to be having all that good of a time, and the festivities wrap up at a fairly reasonable hour.
Their friend Teeny and her husband offer to take Adam and Margo’s son Dylan to have a sleepover at their place with their kids; Dylan has been having nightmares about his parents being murdered ever since they’ve moved into the new house. You just know this foreshadowing is going to come into play later on, and indeed it will.
Significantly, while the party was still in full swing, Adam noticed a good-looking, stylishly-dressed couple he didn’t recognize; he’s disconcerted, but figures Margo invited them, or they tagged along with one of the other guests. After everyone leaves, though, Adam asks Margo about them, and she doesn’t know who the hell they are either. Chalking the whole thing up to a misunderstanding, they decide to put the lame shindig behind them and hit the hay.
But just then, the odd couple pop out of a bathroom and scare the daylights out of Adam and Margo. They imply that they went in the bathroom to have sex, but then lost track of time. They apologize, but there’s a wicked gleam in their eyes, and when Margo demands to know who they are and who invited them, they cop to having invited themselves. They introduce themselves as Tom and Sasha (Timothy Granaderos and Perry Mattfeld), and say they’re the neighbors, telling Adam and Margo that one of the party guests blocked their driveway, and when they noticed the bash was going on next door, they thought they’d drop in. They didn’t mean to cause any distress, they maintain; they were just curious, and are sorry for any offense they might have caused.
It seems that the matter is resolved, and Margo is ready for them to leave, but her clod husband—wanting to seem cool in front of the obviously rich, self-assured, and successful other couple—asks them to stay for a nightcap, over Margo’s oblique objections. Tom and Sasha take Adam up on the offer, and over the next few hours, the four drink and get to know one another. As time goes on, it becomes very clear that Tom and Sasha are manipulating the weaknesses of the other couple, turning them against one another for some nefarious purpose. Tom targets Adam’s upwardly-mobile self-importance, offering to introduce him to some wealthy CEOs that might be interested in investing in Adam’s start-up. Sasha commiserates with Margo’s frustration over having given up her artistic dreams to hitch herself to Adam’s version of material success. It’s all very insidious.
We also learn, partway through, that the reason Adam was able to purchase this house for such a moderate price was because of a horrific murder-suicide that occurred there several years before; we further discover that Adam has kept this information from his wife, which highlights yet another chink in the armor of their relationship that Tom and Sasha can exploit. It’s not really a spoiler to say that it’s telegraphed pretty glaringly that Tom and Sasha were involved in the murder-suicide somehow, so while the movie is entertaining, its plot twists are fairly obvious early on.
As the situation in Adam and Margo’s house shades from drunkenly boisterous into downright sinister, there’s also a small subplot involving their friend Teeny, who decides to drive back to Adam and Margo’s place to retrieve Dylan’s “Pookie” (a stuffed monkey he can’t sleep without), because the kid awoke from another nightmare about his parents being “chopped up.” I actually liked this little diversion; I just wish it had been fleshed out more and tied in more conclusively with the main narrative. Having said that, though, the odd ending (which I won’t spoil) maybe suggests an interesting theory about what really happened to Adam and Margo, and in that case, Teeny’s side-story actually makes a lot more sense. I think this is one of those films where I might need to see it a second time to confirm my suspicions about the ending, because I do have a particular hypothesis in mind and want to see if I’m correct.
All in all, this was a fun, decent watch; nothing to write home about, but a pretty solid, darkly comic thriller. It isn’t particularly gory or violent, though there is some blood in the third act, after everything comes to a head. Most of the tension in the movie comes from the conversations and interactions between the two couples, but I didn’t mind that, as all the acting is good, and there’s a lot going on beneath the surface. The character of Adam in particular is an unlikeable douchebag, but he’s supposed to be, and as the story goes on, you do actually start to feel more charitable toward him, because he does seem capable of realizing when he’s being an asshole.
If you like dinner-party horror where fraught social interactions are the source of much of the suspense, then you might enjoy Who Invited Them; it isn’t as good as some other examples of similar stories, like Karyn Kusama’s brilliant 2015 film The Invitation, or Michael Haneke’s Funny Games, or E.L. Katz’s 2013 debut Cheap Thrills, but it’s a dependably absorbing psychological thriller with some effective performances and a few queasy moments of palpable dread.
Until next time, keep it creepy, my friends.