THE DINNER PARTY **** USA 2020 Dir: Miles Doleac. 116 mins
Joining the growing library of Trump-era class war horror films (SATANIC PANIC, THE HUNT, et al) and built around a one-house theatrical scenario akin to Karyn Kusama’s THE INVITATION, prolific actor-writer-director Miles Doleac’s horror satire wittily deconstructs the pretentious opera-loving elite and those who dare to bring a $12 full bodied red wine to a swanky dinner party. Said evening event is hosted by outwardly charming doctor Carmine (Bill Sage, huge fun) and his flamboyantly bitchy partner Sebastian (Sawandi Wilson), the kind of hosts that greet guests by telling them to fuck off and calling them peasants. Budding playwright Jeff (Mike Mayhall) and Haley (a terrific Alli Hart) are the outsiders, with Jeff selfishly eager to impress the highly connected “cream of the crop” fellow attendees so his play has a chance of making it to Broadway. Haley is medicated and way out of her depth as they face an off-kilter array of guests: deviant exhibitionist writer Agatha (Kamille McCuin), self-harming investor Vincent (Doleac) and sexy redhead witch Sadie (Lindsay Anne Williams). Doleac’s script has fun capturing the insecurities and hang-ups of America’s 1% in between debates about Verdi and Puccini, while unravelling the ostensibly average-Joe “hero” as a frustrated little man barely able to conceal his inner, controlling misogynist.
Channelling everything from Polanski to the beautifully prepared human cuisine of TV’s HANNIBAL, the film revels in deftly played black humour (“The only thing that makes me hornier than a beautiful woman is a corpse!”) and crosses the line with a Stuart Gordon-esque zest for a moment involving a headless corpse with a hard-on. Hart, driven by her own abusive background and making the inevitable transition to bad-ass cathartic violence, is a heroine truly worth rooting for and, if the themes end up being entirely spelled out (“We are the untouchable!”), we hardly live in a time for subtlety anyway. Set to a pulsing, evocative score by Clifton Hyde (who, like much of the cast and crew, worked with Doleac on earlier features like DEMONS and THE HOLLOW), it pays off with a love-it-or-hate-it twist. Some of the best gags are almost throwaway – like the revelation that these homicidal wealthy deviants have all possible tools at their disposal…but make terrible choices when it comes to simply tying someone up.
Review by Steven West