In the interior of a mansion we hear opera music and see opulent dinner settings complete with a man bleeding to death. The table is now set for The Dinner Party...
...After this quick vision of violence, writer/director Miles Doleac (The Hollow, Containment) sets a tone of anticipation bordering on anxiety as a young couple arrives outside the mansion. Husband Jeff Duncan (Mike Mayhall) and wife Haley (Alli Hart) find themselves out of sorts as they mentally prepare for a dinner party because the pair understands (or at least Jeff does) that everyone in attendance greatly out-classes them. Inside the house, the host Carmine (Bill Sage [We Are What We Are]) and companion Sebastian (Sawandi Wilson) joke about the arrival of the “peasants” and mock the undoubtedly poor presentation of their guests. Just a few minutes in and the story very much establishes the obnoxiously wealthy as the villains and the awkward working class as the loveable, yet naïve heroes.
Haley asserts her suspicions before even entering the house, but Jeff insists on playing along with all the odd etiquette and bizarre requests because the networking at the party will help produce his play. The couple might at first appear doting and dedicated to each other, but a struggling playwright and former mental patient allows for an interesting pairing. The condescending attitude of Jeff and his predictable horror-trope blindness to creepy behaviors offers little to soothe his wife while she takes pills only referred to as her “medication” to calm her and make her less neurotic. However, despite the backstory of hospital visits and nightmares, Jeff definitely comes off as the more unstable of the couple.
Every dinner guest aside from Jeff and Haley immediately earns themselves a firm placement in the pompous category. The overly sexed Agatha (Kamille McCuin), witchy Sadie (Lindsay Anne Williams), and angry Vincent (Doleac) all demonstrate their expertise and role in the world of the elite. The division between the new arrivals and the already established guests becomes clear from conversations about $2 million paintings and entitled airs when discussing work. However, a physical separation also solidly distinguishes the two types of people in attendance. The Duncans rely on each other (and Haley’s painful flashbacks) for company, while the more eccentric guests pop in and out of the conversation. Each staying only long enough to exhibit unusual conduct and weird out the guests and the viewers.
Haley fears the cast of the dinner party, but Jeff only fears his wife. He keeps a controlling eye on her and even physically restrains her while at the table by keeping a strong grasp on her hand. He tightens his grip whenever his spouse dares to speak her mind or share any topic he believes inappropriate for the dinner table. Doleac keeps his audience guessing on the intention of the party as the group consists of both skeptics and spiritualists. Wealth and fame decide the pecking order of the party, but so does divination. The parlor game changes the tone of the film as the small talk gives way to a solemn choosing of tarot cards.
The title of The Dinner Party serves as a fitting description as almost the first hour of the film revolves around a group of people sitting at a table. The dinner guests exchange interests, disinterests, and show more of their personalities. For a good portion of the movie the director creates a one room horror film focused largely on atmosphere and conversation. The themes of discussion grow with intensity and the opera-based soundtrack forms echoing cries which builds into a haunting and unsettling effect. Masked with the topic of the theatre, the table deliberates about lust, greed, murder, and torture. The presence of certain cast members such as Hart, Sage, and Doleac creates a commanding performance as the acting relies on facial expressions because no one moves from the table…that is until dinner is served.
Once the action of the film starts, it does not want to stop. Have you ever been to a party and once the alcohol starts flowing everyone becomes a completely different person? Well, dinners at Carmine’s house take that to the next level! The various guests’ motivations and unconventional thirsts propel the story forward with exploration of some sick fantasies described to us in graphic detail. As the story unfolds, we not only see the needs of the guests that brought them here, but also the hopeless plight of the two people not privileged enough to be truly part of the elite clique.
A major theme of the film which definitely seems the catalyst for much of the sadistic actions, stems from evil parents who specialized in broken childhoods. Not surprisingly, both Haley and the “untouchable elite” connect on their terrible pasts as all the tension of the gathering eventually culminates into horrific actions. The Dinner Party might struggle to find an audience because the film combines a slow-build with some violent and unpredictable scenes, but the acting and atmosphere will hopefully find a place at your horror table.
Join The Dinner Party when the film releases on DVD and Digital June 5th from Uncork'd Entertainment.
By Amylou Ahava
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