"Who Invited Them" a tight, wicked, anxiously funny pitch-black comedy

Who Invited Them (2022)

A home invasion is easily one of the most terrifying scenarios in a horror movie. It could actually happen and it could happen anywhere. “What if those home invaders posed as your mysteriously cool and attractive neighbors in the Hollywood Hills?” is the question asked in “Who Invited Them,” writer-director Duncan Birmingham’s feature debut. With only a little fat on its bones, this works best as a tight exercise in escalating tension, not to mention a fun acting workout. It's unnerving with a wicked glint in its eye.

Thanks to “a little domestic murder situation,” married couple Adam (Ryan Hansen) and Margo (Melissa Tang) got a good deal on their new house in the Hollywood Hills. Margo just doesn’t know the full story yet. The homeowners throw a housewarming party, but Margo doesn’t really like Adam’s colleagues and boss, and Adam doesn’t really get the time to know Margo’s friends. He likes showing off, and she thinks they’re in over their heads. After everyone clears out, Adam and Margo both wonder which one of them invited the hot, stylish couple. It turns out neither one of them did, and the hot, stylish couple is still there! They introduce themselves as Tom (Timothy Granaderos) and Sasha (Perry Mattfeld), the neighbors across the street who thought they’d stop over since their driveway was blocked by one of Adam and Margo’s friends. One nightcap leads to another and another until the strange couple gets deep-seated resentments out of Adam and Margo and keeps overstaying their welcome. You know something is bound to get weird and/or violent after Margo asks, “Where’s the cheese knife?” 

Like an afterparty melding of “Cheap Thrills,” “The Overnight,” and “The Invitation” with a Neil LaBute-ish edge, “Who Invited Them” (where’s the question mark?) is anxiously and darkly funny, and then just plain anxious and dark. When the film just focuses on these two couples and where the night will go, there’s more than enough buzz to fill out its 81 minutes. Concurrently, Margo and Adam have a young son, Dylan (Kalo Moss), who’s having nightmares about his parents getting killed and continues having those night terrors when sleeping over at a friend’s house. That friend's mother, Teeny (Tipper Newton), who just came back from the housewarming party on Margo's side, decides that she needs to go back to get Dylan’s security-blanket stuffed animal, but she gets lost driving around the Hollywood Hills. This subplot is kind of superfluous—and it’s set up that Teeny is a big animal advocate when her husband clearly hits an animal on their way home—but it does come to a head.

All four principal actors pull their weight with this power-play material. Ryan Hansen and Michelle Tang get to show different shades of Adam and Margo, who react in ways that always feel true to their characters without turning them into pawns to the plot. As our exciting party crashers dressed in a black suit and a slinky cocktail dress, Timothy Granaderos has a danger and unpredictability behind his handsome looks and fit jawline as Tom, and Perry Mattfeld (a dead ringer for Jennifer Aniston) is sexy and hilariously quirky with killer delivery. We know Tom and Sasha aren’t who they claim to be, but the anticipation of how and when Adam and Margo will eventually discover their true identities keeps us watching. Before the real secret comes out, “Who Invited Them” is a lot of playfully creepy fun. Once it does, things come to an obviously bloody anticlimax. The abrupt ending itself makes thematic sense, but it’s the one fault in an otherwise solidly constructed and deliciously performed pitch-black comedy. 

Grade: B

Shudder released “Who Invited Them” (81 min.) on their streaming service on September 1, 2022.