A wanna-be playwright and his young bride accept an invitation to an exclusive dinner party at the palatial home of a wealthy recluse hoping he will agree to back the writer’s latest play. They don’t know the man…or any of the other guests that will be attending the party. They just know that the last writer the recluse gave money to ended up on Broadway so they are willing to do almost anything to be the next in line.
And you know before they even enter the house that they are going to regret they ever knocked on the door.
Directed by Miles Doleac (Hallowed Ground), The Dinner Party has a slow-burning fuse; nothing really happens for the first hour of the movie. Or at least nothing you can point to as the source of the growing tension that gently crawls up your spine. There are several really creepy moments, like when the playwright’s wife, Haley (Alli Hart) goes to the bathroom and finds a naked woman (Kamille McCuin) in the room outside the door as if waiting for her to arrive. The fact that the naked woman is a famous writer named Agatha that her husband greatly admires only amps up the weirdness for Haley — and the audience — as she tries to strike up a casual conversation with the striking beauty.
The incident is never mentioned again by Hailey or Agatha, but don’t dwell on it too much because it happens with a lot of the odd moments in the first half of The Dinner Party. Things are said and things happen that seem to cry out for explanation, if not a more physical reaction from the people that are said about or happening to. But nothing gets said or done and the pile of offenses, real and imagined, just keeps growing.
Be patient. All will be revealed in the end. Trust that Doleac and his cast know what they are doing: Toying with you by dropping just enough hints to tease you and keeping as much as they can back to make you want more until it’s time to drop the hammer on the audience.
And they drop it hard.
And it’s only after the blood starts to flow and the bodies start to pile up, or maybe only after the final scene has ended, that you can start to appreciate just how well The Dinner Party caters to your horror needs. There is plenty of action and just enough gore to make you wish you hadn’t eaten so much before you started the film. As good as he is building tension in the movie through words, Doleac shows he’s got a talent for directing violence, too, with the added bonus of making even the most outrageous acts not only look real but feel like an integral part of the story.
The cast is outstanding, even if you don’t appreciate it until there are only a few left standing. Sawandi Wilson is stunning as Sebastian, the most outrageous guest at the table. Some of what he says simply leaves you gasping at the screen with your mouth open, yet you can’t wait to hear what he will say next. Leslie Anne Williams is as equally captivating as Sadie, the Earth Mother Witch of the group, for very different reasons. And kudos to Doleac for stepping out from behind the camera and delivering a strong performance as Vincent, in many ways the darkest dinner guest at the table (and that is saying a lot).
The real star of The Dinner Party, though, is Hart (Blood of Drago). She plays the submissive wife of the playwright with such total conviction that you want to jump into the screen to save her. But that’s nothing compared to the way she absolutely nails the transformation Haley goes through during the course of the meal. She’s not exactly the hero of the film — it’s debatable if there really is one — but that won’t keep you from rooting for her once she stops being a victim and starts fighting back.
- John Black, The Dinner Party