Review: The Dinner Party

Year: 2020
Runtime: 116 Minutes
Director/Writer: Miles Doleac
Stars: Alli Hart, Mike Mayhall, Jeremy London, Bill Sage, Sherri Eakin, Sawandi Wilson

By Harris Dang

Rich people, right? That is the most often asked question when one sees when they see a wealthy, famous, well-off person doing peculiar things. Whether it is naming their child X Æ A-12 or offering $65 million dollars to any man able to woo and marry his lesbian daughter; at this point the unexpected is the new cliche.

But in the world of genre films, the portrayal of eccentric rich people (or the upper echelons of society, if you will) has been even more crazy. You have the sophisticated works in science-fiction like Bong Joon-ho‘s “Snowpiercer” (2013). You have the more darkly comedic works that are effective as satire like Ben Wheatley‘s “High-Rise” (2015). Then there are the completely gonzo works that you just have to see to believe like Brian Yuzna‘s “Society” (1989), which brings a whole new meaning to the word “shunting”.

This year we have “The Dinner Party” (2020) by writer/director Miles Doleac, who is well-known for his acting chops; but he has delved into directing through his production company Historia Films. With a well-worn premise of rich people being wealthy and “rich” mixed with a horror genre aesthetic which will not be spoiled; will the party end with a bang?

Bill Sage and Sawandi Wilson in The Dinner Party (2020) © 2020 Historia Films, LLC

The synopsis is quite simple. A married couple, Haley and Jeff (Alli Hart and Mike Mayhall) has accepted a dinner invitation to join a bunch of wealthy investors at a dinner party at a lavish estate in a secluded neighbourhood. The film has a knowing sense of humour right off the bat when one of the residents (the unruly Sebastian, played by Sawandi Wilson) provides a profane-filled welcome, telling the lead couple to f#@k off. But of course, there would be no film if they did so they take it in stride; especially when Sebastian assures the couple that he is in jest and that the party awaits.

“The Dinner Party” is an enjoyable and admirable attempt to pump up the class segregation aesthetic as it provides the requisite scares and creeps but its nagging flaws keep it from reaching a higher class of film.”

The character motivations are made clear (through overt exposition) that Jeff is at the party in order to woo said investors. As he is desperately trying to fit in and mingle with the elite; including the voracious author Agatha (Kamille McCuin), the pantomime-accented Vincent (Miles Doleac), the whimsical Sadie (Lindsay Anne Williams) and the peculiarly astute medical doctor Carmine (Bill Sage), Haley unsurprisingly feels out of place. But her reasons for her anxiety go far beyond the usual jitters.

“The Dinner Party” is an enjoyable and admirable attempt to pump up the class segregation aesthetic as it provides the requisite scares and creeps but its nagging flaws keep it from reaching a higher class of film. Firstly, the film kicks the story into gear quite well, as it introduces the key points and characters effectively. The production values are stellar considering the meager budget. The cinematography (lensed by Michael Williams) lends the film an enigmatic air that proves to be both eerie and beautiful; the costume design (by Williams herself) fits the visual style while the musical score by Clifton Hyde is sparse yet impactful when it occurs.

Alli Hart in The Dinner Party (2020) © 2020 Historia Films, LLC

The cast all stand out in making their characters memorable and they all look like they are having fun while doing it. Hart capably displays vulnerability and tenacity as Haley (provided with a simple, yet rich backstory); Mayhall is believable as the desperate and hapless Jeff; Doleac and Sage provide moments of menace until they appropriately verbally furrow their figurative mustaches with gusto (the former reminded this reviewer of an evil Richard Branson); McCuin bares it all (figuratively and literally) with sadistic glee; Wilson fitfully smugs [sic] it up as Sebastian while Williams adds an air of mystery and intrigue as Sadie.

The film also has many moments involving lashings of blood and gore (thankfully with little use of CGI) and an enjoyably sadistic sense of humour that makes all of it fun to watch. One standout moment involves Vincent lecturing on how to cook while a visibly distraught Haley reluctantly looks in shock.

As for its flaws, the second act does tend to drag due to the many monologues that characters utter for long periods of time. While it may have been necessary for its utilization to make the third act more climactic as well as provide some foreshadowing; it is quite frustrating as the film almost reaches the 2-hour mark.

“The film also has many moments involving lashings of blood and gore (thankfully with little use of CGI) and an enjoyably sadistic sense of humour that makes all of it fun to watch.”

Bill Sage and Miles Doleac in The Dinner Party (2020) © 2020 Historia Films, LLC

Then there are the usual flaws that are expected for this type of genre including questionable character decisions (after being explicitly told not to tie someone’s hand with a cloth, they perform that exact same action again), lingering plot details (How did Jeff and Haley get invited to the party in the first place?) and some low budget gaffes (the ADR is quite noticeable at times).

Overall, “The Dinner Party” is an effectively creepy horror flick with game performances and a gleefully dark sense of humour; even if it bites a bit more than it can chew. Besides, any film that fondly reminds this reviewer of his last family reunion can’t be all bad, right?

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