Aspiring millennials and their first-world problems are inherently absurd, particularly when their bourgeois existence is challenged, or at least that’s what Who Invited Them relies upon as it attempts to mix comedy and horror in the affluent L.A hills.

Writer/director Duncan Birmingham’s first full-length feature was shown during the 2022 FrightFest, arriving on Shudder shortly afterward. It sees two young parents host a housewarming party ostensibly to rub their newly purchased, sleek home in the faces of disinterested friends and co-workers. Adam (Ryan Hansen) and Margot (Melissa Tang), having bid farewell to the partygoers, find two gatecrashers that have stayed beyond their welcome. Due to over-politeness and an unconscious need to be liked, as well as to recapture their youth, the new homeowners invite them to stay on, allowing them to make the most of their young son’s stay at a family friend’s, and their brief respite from parental responsibility.

The new couple, Tom (Timothy Granderros) and Sasha (Perry Mattfield), are smart, confident, wealthy, and elegant; in short, everything to which Adam and Margot aspire having snatched up their piece of prime real estate within an exclusive neighbourhood. Their new home, and its apparent luxury, are repeated as something they have earned. Tom and Sasha are the embodiment of what the upwardly mobile couple believes they deserve. It is their manipulation, their need to keep up with the Jones’s, and the parody of the American middle classes that Who Invited Them seeks to satirise.

It is Adam and Margot’s pandering to Tom and Sasha, and their wish to prove to themselves that they haven’t become lost to midlife irrelevancy, that enables them to easily become the playthings of their perceived social betters. Beginning with staying up late, drinking more, then drugs, marital dishonesty, jealousy, and even the encouragement of therapeutic domestic violence, Tom and Sasha provoke, undermine, and toy with Adam and Margot for their own sadistic entertainment. Their perfect, uncanny charm waves red flags from the start, increasing unease and rising tension, but it’s only late into the early hours that Adam and Margot confront, head-on, the well-mannered, genteel home invasion to which they have become unwittingly the victims.

Who Invited Them attempts to walk a line balancing horror and comedy. Adam and Margot are played for amusement, but not in cutting one-liners or slapstick schtick. Instead, it is through humour that comes from their cringe-worthy interests and modern-day character flaws; Adam’s vinyl collection (that should not be touched!), his signature Old Fashioned cocktails, and his awkward use of “bro”, combined with Margot’s social reticence, rock band past, and her general resentment for her husband and motherhood. All are there to embellish the comical middle-class banality at the heart of their relationship.

It’s these shaky foundations, which underpin Adam and Margot, that Tom and Sasha so easily undermine; Sasha teases out Margot’s feeling of being trapped and controlled, while Tom continually dangles the promise of lucrative business contacts in front of Adam, and the opportunity to partake in the sexual conquests that the elites are believed to engage in with comparative ease (I’m looking at you, Eyes Wide Shut).

The acting, sadly, isn’t great, presumably playing to the comedic aims of the film, and it’s lacking in stand-out characters, with neither Adam nor Margot being suitably funny, or especially likable. Furthermore, neither Tom nor Sasha delivers any villainous and charismatic impact in their performance. Some of the reactions are uneven, with Margot shifting from wanting an early night to snorting coke and being a self-proclaimed maniac in the space of a few minutes. The pair also continue to focus on their own relationship issues after the far more unsettling discovery of a deceased family pet. The script is mostly at fault, however, as it fails to create anything other than an infrequent smirk, nor any real sense of threat from, or for, any of the characters.

Although falling between the two stools of horror and comedy, the film is confidently directed and handles the house-bound interactions between the four main protagonists well enough. Who Invited Them is reminiscent of Knock Knock (2015), or Funny Games (2007/1997), but focuses more on the social niceties of a middle age milieu than the brutality of a violent home invasion. 2013’s Cheap Thrills also came to mind, but Who Invited Them fails to focus sufficiently on the increasingly self-destructive games the protagonists are, in that case, encouraged to play. Similarly, the film relies more on the unspoken undercurrent of threat that often belies the charm of the well-mannered upper middle classes, reminding me of the far superior The Invitation (2015).

Who Invited Them tries to deepen the story with a couple of plot revelations that, unfortunately, failed to surprise. The film would have benefited from focusing on the subversive control exhibited by Tom and Sasha, not the reasons for it and their respective backstory. There’s also the inclusion of a few extraneous subplots, like the son and his recurring nightmares, and the involvement of the slightly more right-wing friends who have taken him for the night. The film’s finale feels clumsily tacked on with what is meant to be a chilling call back to unnerve both Adam and the audience but instead feels overly awkward.

Sadly, in attempting to be both comedic and horrifying, Who Invited Them fails to achieve either, although it does adequately pass its eighty minutes easily enough without offering much in the way of memorable extremes.

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