Thanks to horror movies, I’ve become more and more suspicious of high society-types and what depraved acts might take place behind the closed doors of massive mansions. The Dinner Party is one such example. The sophisticated soirée turned bloodbath is directed by Miles Doleac, who also stars as a dinner guest. The fine china and lavish white tablecloth are all stained crimson in this fight for survival.
Playwright Jeff Duncan (Mike Mayhall) and his wife Haley (Alli Hart) are invited to a “secret dinner” by Dr. Carmine Braun (Bill Sage, We Are What We Are) and his society of wealthy, cultural elites. Jeff is hoping to make a good impression and get funding for his play, but he’s worried his wife’s mental health might be a deal-breaker. The couple’s desperate attempt to come off as normal is thrown off by the eccentric behavior of their hosts. Red flags like surrendering their cellphones and off-putting questions are shrugged off.
“The Dinner Party takes a while to pick up speed […] But once the first drop of blood is spilled, buckets of blood are soon to follow.”
The dinner begins as ordinary as ever, with each of the seven guests pulling a tarot card to determine who picks the dinner music. Haley pulls the Death Card, but is reassured that it actually represents change and rebirth (and a foreshadowing of what’s to come). Haley tries her best to be supportive and keep her emotions in check, but when the conversation drifts to the tragic stories of famous operas, it triggers Haley’s past trauma. At the request of the seemingly sympathetic dinner guests, Haley opens up about the events that led to her becoming an orphan. Jeff, however, does not approve of his wife drawing attention away from him. After a few gulps of wine, it becomes clear that all the talk was to stall for time while the drugs in Jeff and Haley’s drinks kick in. The knives come out and the couple is at the mercy of their hosts.
Tied to a chair, Haley spends time with each dinner guest, subjected to their different perversions and unique obsessions. Novelist Agatha Archer (Kamille McCuin) provokes Haley with a disturbing display of sexuality. Sadie (Lindsay Anne Williams) shows off her witchy side, forcing Haley to swallow a blood potion. Carmine combines his knowledge of surgery and his passion for the culinary arts, lecturing Haley on how to prepare a human body for a meal.
Elements of The Dinner Party made me feel like I’ve seen this film before, though it’s more of a mix of familiar moments. The passive aggression of the couples in front of company make me think of Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? The rich folks, who at first seem snobby yet harmless, later revealed to be murderous maniacs, reminds me of Monster Party. Haley as their captive guest sat at the head of the table is similar to the infamous dinner scene from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Her escape and bloody retaliation is reminiscent of Ready Or Not. I’m sure there’s many other films with a similar “evil rich people” premise that I haven’t seen yet.
Alli Hart shines as her character transforms from an obedient wife who looks like she’ll fall apart if her husband so much as raises his voice (or in one scene, his hand), to an unstoppable force that can snap a neck with her bare hands. Sawandi Wilson also deserves a mention for his portrayal as Sebastian, not only for his show of musical talent, but for being the most deceiving of the bunch. Miles Doleac inexplicably puts on a British accent, perhaps to come off as posh, but ends up sounding more like Jason Statham than Benedict Cumberbatch. But if it wasn’t for the accent, I wouldn’t have been able to tell him apart from the other bearded white man at the table. But overall, the ensemble cast works well together.
“The Dinner Party is immensely enjoyable, especially if you want to see pompous rich elites get what’s coming for them”
The Dinner Party takes a while to pick up speed. The first half is packed with unease, awkwardness and tension, yet the real danger is only introduced almost an hour in. But once the first drop of blood is spilled, buckets of blood are soon to follow. There’s frequent cuts to blurry flashbacks from Haley’s past that we only really needed to see once or twice. At almost two hours, there’s a lot that could have been cut down.
For an independent film, The Dinner Party looks great for what it is, from the props and decorative set design of the mansion, to the costume design that highlights the personality of each character. This being Doleac’s fifth feature, he knows how to dress it up, despite a limited budget. I’m willing to forgive the occasional unconvincing practical effect or the not-so-crisp audio quality, especially of the dining room. The script is clever in its dialogue, yet has a few noticeable plot holes and a few loose ends. But pay no mind. As a critic, it’s my job to nitpick very minor details. From a viewer’s perspective, The Dinner Party is immensely enjoyable, especially if you want to see pompous rich elites get what’s coming for them (and even better- with a twelve-dollar full-bodied merlot).
The Dinner Party will be available on DVD and Digital on Friday, June 5. Let us know what you thought about the film, and feel free to share your dinner party horror stories with us on Twitter, in the Nightmare on Film Street Subreddit, and on Facebook in the Horror Movie Fiend Club!