What’s worse than a guest overstaying their welcome? How about someone showing up uninvited? Hollywood has played the guest who would not leave for laughs (Madhouse, What About Bob? You Me, and Dupree), suspense (Windfall), and horror (Funny Games). On horror streaming platform Shudder, writer and director Duncan Birmingham moves from short films to a feature-length debut, Who Invited Them. It promises to mix dark humor and social commentary alongside some genre thrills. While it’s a slightly under-the-radar release, critics who have seen it seem largely impressed with the results.
Young married couple Adam and Margo are moving up in the world. They’ve just moved into a posh new home right in Hollywood Hills. And they got it for a ‘steal’. To celebrate their new digs, the couple throw a party for friend and Adam’s business clients. But when the party ends and everyone leaves two guests linger for more drinks and music. There’s only one problem – neither Adam nor Margo remember inviting these strangers.
Who Invited Them Builds and Builds … But Has Nowhere to Go
For nearly a third of the movie, Who Invited Them sets up an intriguing, if not entirely novel, premise filled with promise. Writer and director Duncan Birmingham efficiently ‘sets the table’, so to speak, he introduces us to Xennial couple, Adam and Margo. There’s Adam, just slightly consumed with social status and eager to show off their swanky new home. In contrast, Margo feels uncomfortable with their wealth and success, in part perhaps because her own personal growth has been stifled by her husband. Birmingham quickly introduces these tensions and then proceeds to exacerbate them with an awkward house party. What follows in these early scenes is some well-written biting commentary on classism and social mobility.
Though there’s some intermittent creepiness, it never rises above mild discomfort and rarely feels like it’s escalating.
However, once the party ends and Adam and Margo’s uninvited guests linger, Who Invited Them settles into a stretched holding pattern. An increasing game of manipulation fills the movie’s second act wherein ‘neighbors’ Tom and Sasha chip away at the insecurities of their hosts, fully exposing the cracks revealed earlier. Two problems quickly emerge in the second act. Though there’s some intermittent creepiness, it never rises above mild discomfort and rarely feels like it’s escalating. This ‘flat suspense’ in part stems from the overall familiarity of Birmingham’s story. Too many thriller tropes pop up amidst some pretty generic jabs at upper-middle class culture. Simply put, Who Invited Them feels pretty familiar.
Who Invited Them Has Likable Performances in Largely Unlikable Roles
Once Who Invited Them reveals all of its cards, Birmingham finally ratchets up the action. It’s a somewhat underwhelming sequence of events disrupted by a subplot of another friend and party attendee trying to return to the couple’s home. Not much really happens in the climax and what does happen ends too abruptly. It also doesn’t help that the thriller’s reveal isn’t that surprising. Another problem that emerges from the climax is that it doesn’t feel all that connected to themes carefully laid out earlier. Without delving into spoilers, the ‘uninvited guests’ don’t connect to Tom and Margo’s home in a way that addresses the classism Birmingham was targeting previously.
Not much really happens in the climax and what does happen ends too abruptly. It also doesn’t help that the thriller’s reveal isn’t that surprising
In the absence of nail-biting suspense and a consistent social commentary, Who Invited Them is left with four characters who aren’t particularly likable. All of the performances are excellent. Rather the problem lies with Birmingham’s screenplay, which fails to flesh out the characters beyond broad strokes. Both Timothy Granaderos (13 Reasons Why) and Perry Mattfeld (Shameless) are creepy enough as the ‘uninvited guests’ but neither conveys any serious menace. Inevitably, Birmingham brushes off the characters as fairly straightforward psychopaths. As the slightly douchey Adam, Ryan Hansen (Friday the 13th) handles the more comic bits quite well. Similarly Melissa Tang (The Kominsky Method) charms as the more frazzled Margo. However, younger Millennials and Gen Z’ers may struggle to connect with characters whose biggest problem is that they could afford to buy a house.
Who Invited Them is ‘All Hat, No Cattle’
While it’s certainly watchable and occasionally darkly amusing, Who Invited Them feels like a missed opportunity. After a setup that hits most of the right notes, Birmingham settles into what feels like more extended setup. That is, Who Invited Them plateaus quickly into ‘soft buildup’ mode before underwhelming with its abrupt climax. It’s never quite as dark, funny, or suspenseful as it wants to be. None of the characters are particularly likable and neither antagonist rises above ‘creepy’. The end result is a horror-comedy that’s perfect fine way to pass some time, but not particularly memorable.