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A Hollywood Hills housewarming party eventually turns deadly in “Who Invited Them,” a staid home invasion thriller about a timid married couple who are bullied by two flirtatious strangers. More experienced—or funnier, or more exploitation-adept—filmmakers might have at least hit the mark for shock value in this ostensibly psycho-satirical button-pusher.
Writer/director Duncan Birmingham does not take a big enough bite out of Adam and Margo (Ryan Hansen and Melissa Tang), an imperfect bougie couple pushed well past their modest psychological limits by Tom and Sasha (Timothy Granaderos and Perry Mattfeld), a couple of underdeveloped sociopaths. Tom and Sasha are a little mild, as far as leering, nihilistic post-Manson boogeymen go, and that relative timidity makes Adam and Margo’s gradual meltdown even more underwhelming. Adam even says the movie’s title within the movie’s first 15 minutes. No personal offense to Birmingham, but that line is a very hard sell.
The best thing that can be said about “Who Invited Them” is that Birmingham and his game ensemble cast do sometimes exhibit a sense of humor. Adam, who has the overbearing but genial personality of a Labrador, invites and inevitably regrets hosting a house party with his reluctant partner Margo. It’s sometimes amusing to watch Adam, in early scenes, repeatedly commit himself and Margo to a discomfiting late-night encounter with Tom and Sasha, both of whom crash Adam’s party and also claim to be his next-door neighbors.
In order to sustain and/or develop viewers’ interest, the plot of “Who Invited Them” would have to escalate somehow once Margo starts taking a more active role in encouraging Tom and Sasha’s needling, which runs the gamut from “The Punching Game”—couples punch each other’s shoulders for, uh, therapy—to a proposed three-some (Tom wants to watch). It’s an unfortunate coincidence that Birmingham’s already slow-to-start plot stops running on fumes right when Margo starts picking up the dramatic slack for her useless, self-satisfied husband.
The makers of “Who Invited Them” strenuously mock, but never quite nail Adam, a vinyl-loving nouveau riche doofus who can’t seem to put his foot down when he needs to. And he does need to, since Tom and Sasha predictably do not want to go home (wherever that is). Clearly the mystery of Tom and Sasha’s real identities has something to do with an infamous double homicide that happened years ago in Adam’s new house. But even if that twist weren’t already fairly blatant, it would still be underwhelming when judged by its creators’ execution.
"Who Invited Them" earmarks every potential source of drama and/or satire, to the point where, about 21 minutes into the movie, Tom elbows viewers’ in the ribs when he exclaims “We’re the neighbors.” There’s also no sustaining tension to unite the film's two couples, not between Adam and Margo—“You used to love parties.” “Did I?”—nor Tom and Sasha, whose biggest quirk seems to be that they’re both kind of bratty. Tom eventually explains to Adam that he and Sasha like Adam and Margo too much to hurt them. Oh well, that might have been fun.
Once you get an idea of what’s basically dysfunctional about these two couples, there’s only so many more places that the movie can go. But the main cast members’ performances, especially Granaderos and Hansen, are not to blame; their characters are as obnoxious and obvious as their respective partners’ well-enunciated and subsequently abandoned personalities. All four main cast members do their best, but “Who Invited Them” only slightly perks up towards the end, once Tom and Sasha’s well-guarded plans finally go off-the-rails.
Until then, the most intriguing part of Birmingham’s movie has to be an inconsistent subplot involving Adam and Margo’s young son Dylan (Kalo Moss), who spends most of the movie sleeping over at a friend’s nearby home. That friend’s mother, Teeny (Tipper Newton), takes a long drive back to Adam and Margo’s house after Dylan wakes up and complains that he can’t go back to bed without his Pookie (a stuffed monkey). Teeny disappears for a while, and only re-emerges twice, the first time after 30 more minutes. I wish there was a stronger shaggy dog anti-climax to Teeny’s story (I thought of John Cleese’s Sir Lancelot rushing Prince Herbert’s castle in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”). There isn’t, because “Who Invited Them” never fully commits to that or any other bit.
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