Written by: Matt Patti | June 4th, 2020
The Dinner Party (Miles Doleac, 2020) 3 out of 4 stars.
The Dinner Party, the latest feature from writer/director Miles Doleac (Hallowed Ground), involves a couple invited to a dinner with strange guests. The film features a great deal of mystery, suspense, and disturbing horror scenarios, but also has a strong message of female empowerment and growth. Equally disturbing and socially relevant, The Dinner Party is a unique horror-thriller fit to be consumed by modern audiences.
The film begins with a young married couple, Jeff and Haley, arriving at a huge, elegant mansion for a dinner party. Jeff is hoping that the elites who invited them to dinner will fund his new play, but once inside, the guests begin to act strangely, showing more interest in Haley than himself. The wealthy, cultural elite guests have many strange traditions and are often rude to Jeff when they’re not downright ignoring him. As the night goes on, Jeff and Haley grow increasingly uncomfortable and begin to question why they were really invited in the first place. Soon, the group’s true intentions come to surface, and the night takes a dark turn. Can Jeff and Haley make it to dessert unscathed?
This film features the perfect example of a payoff. The first half of the film sets up the second half well, and many things that make little sense in the first half are explored in the second. That being said, the first half of this film is very slow, sometimes painfully so. The audience joins in on the discomfort of Jeff and Haley as we traverse this large mansion, meet some standoffish guests, and listen to creepy stories that sometimes last a bit too long. This all builds good mystery and intrigue, however. There’s a lot of exposition and foreshadowing in this first half, and in my opinion maybe one too many stories and theatre/play references. However, many events that happen in this sluggish first half do have greater meaning in the second half and in the film’s conclusion.
In this second half, without getting into spoilers, many horror tropes are honored while new ones are introduced. There are some wickedly disturbing scenes that shock the viewer but are tied together by an interesting idea that people who have been forced to do awful things in their past could become psychologically dependent on those things and addicted to doing them. The film also explores the idea of independence and inner strength, which the character development of a few of our characters reflects.
Overall, The Dinner Party offers mostly satisfying performances, with only a few cases of overacting, and interesting characters that are fleshed out well and all have different motivations. The plot builds and builds throughout the film and overcomes a slow start to reach a shocking and satisfying, if a bit surprising, finale. The ultimate outcome of the film is an unexpected one, refreshing and thought-provoking. The very female-centric storytelling and strong female characters in the film help to spread a great message that is timely and important. Some of the disturbing scenes may be a bit too much for some viewers to digest, and some may check out in the slow first half, but if experienced all the way through, The Dinner Party is a worthwhile watch. This horror film is filled with mystery, effectively off-putting events, important central themes, and strong characters, and is best digested whole.