Synopsis: Adam and Margo’s housewarming party goes well enough, except this one mysterious couple is lingering after the other guests have left.
Stars: Ryan Hansen, Melissa Tang, Timothy Granaderos, Perry Mattfeld, Tipper Newton, Barry Rothbart
Director: Duncan Birmingham
Running Length: 81 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: I tell ya, throwing a party can be murder, am I right? Confirm you have the right people invited, plan the correct amount of food to prepare/order, and ensure you are well-stocked with drinks so the night doesn’t run dry too early. These should all be on your list. A lot of work goes into being a host, so much so that you often can’t fully engage in the celebratory nature of the event itself. Your time is limited, and depending on how much of the night you are responsible for, you could juggle several different spinning plates at once. Who hasn’t held a shindig and realized later that people attended they never even saw or knew were there?
There are additional distractions for the main characters in Who Invited Them, a compact little chiller that debuted in 2022 on the streaming service Shudder. They are holding a party to show off their new home in the desirable hills of Los Angeles and are still settling into their new surroundings and neighborhood. There’s also a lingering fear from Margo (Melissa Tang, A Good Day to Die Hard) that her husband Adam (Ryan Hansen, Like a Boss) is over his head with this purchase and that the impulse buy may have been a vain attempt to impress the director of his company and their friends. The initial feeling we get from Adam is of an obvious try-hard who talks a big talk but overlooks the eye-rolls the moment he turns his back.
As they move through the party separately, both Adam and Margo take note of a good-looking couple that neither recognizes. Adam assumes they are friends of Margo’s, and she thinks they are work colleagues of Adam’s. A friend of Margo’s later catches the man (Timothy Granaderos, Devil’s Workshop) in a part of the house he shouldn’t be in while the woman (Perry Mattfeld) waits nearby. Though it’s not late, the other guests drift away, having made their obligatory appearance, leaving Adam and Margo alone in the home…or so they think.
The man and woman neither of them knows are discovered in their house, apparently having lost track of time and not knowing the party had ended. When questioned by Adam and Margo, they identify themselves as Tom and Sasha, neighbors from down the block who had stopped by to complain because their car was blocked by one of the guests but instead decided to go with the flow and wait it out. Since the night was still young, would a friendly drink between new neighbors be out of the question? It’s an invitation that Adam and Margo will wish they hadn’t accepted.
Writer/director Duncan Birmingham has assembled a tidy thriller that doesn’t show all its cards immediately, though you think you may know where the evening is headed. A handful of twists get thrown out in Who Invited Them, which work to varying degrees of success, but the performances keep Who Invited Them from lingering too low to the ground. Hansen and Tang work believably as a couple who already feel uneasy in their current situation, so as the tension gets ratcheted up, it doesn’t take much to play with their fears. I also liked what Granaderos and Mattfeld serve: equal parts manipulation of the truth and an outright grift based on lies. Both must tread a fine line without losing momentum and pull it off without hinting at what might be their motivation.
If Who Invited Them starts to get a little monotonous as it passes the sixty-minute mark, it’s because it feels like this started as a short that was expanded into a feature-length film. Why else would there be an entire secondary storyline involving a friend of the main couple (Tipper Newton, Southbound, who is otherwise a terrific breath of fresh air) that feels tacked onto the action with a glue stick? Then there’s the ending that, although pulse-quickening, feels like it was created by a violence-hungry focus group, a far cry from the tightly wound tension builder we’d experienced until that point.
I had passed Who Invited Them over several times, even after reading good notices, but I’m glad I finally took the plunge. It’s a trim home invasion thriller that benefits significantly from its actors and Birmingham’s easy set-up. It’s the knocking down that isn’t as graceful as the building up was. Even so, it’s leagues better than many Shudder originals and a devilishly engaging option for a dark and rainy night.