“While attending a dinner party at his former home, a man thinks his ex-wife and her new husband have sinister intentions for their guests.” — IMDb
Oh, this was a freaking gem. I’m always psyched to explore woman-directed horror and thriller movies, and Karyn Kusama — with her fourth full-length film — is fantastic at keeping the tension taut and the suspicion simmering.
Will (the intense Logan Marshall-Green, a dead ringer for a more emotionally scarred Tom Hardy) is driving along the Hollywood hills with his girlfriend, Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi), on their way to a dinner party. The weird vibes are established early on — and with shocking delivery — when they hit a coyote and Will is finding himself having to put the poor animal out of its misery with a tire iron found in the trunk. They arrive, albeit a bit shaken, at the party, which takes place in Will’s former home and is hosted by his ex-wife, Eden (Tammy Blanchard) and her new husband, David (Michiel Huisman). The motivation for the party is unclear at first, and all involved seem a bit confused but optimistic (aside from Will, who is on guard from the second he walks in), until there begins to be talk of a cult-like group in Mexico and a bizarre video that almost feels like a call for recruitment. The group deals with grief, something that Eden and Will share deeply as we learn in various flashbacks that show their son dying in an accident right before their eyes. The dinner continues to be vaguely bizarre until an AWESOME surprise ending.
Firstly, the feeling of dread and almost suffocation is palpable. It’s brilliant, especially since it starts within the first minute of the movie, before anything has even begun to go wrong. You just immediately feel like you want to get the hell out of that house, and you’re eyeballing everyone with intense suspicion.
The cinematography is wonderfully done by Bobby Shore (furiously scanning his IMDb page to see what else of his I can watch). The entire movie feels decadent and sparkling despite this mystery simmering beneath the surface, and the scenes where they flash back to the son’s death are haunting, especially the one where Will is in his son’s old room and imagines laying face to face on the bed with him, both breaking into smiles… heartbreaking doesn’t even begin to cover it. There’s a few standout scenes in particular — Will in the bathroom with the mirrors seemingly in a state of neverending reflection, and the group moving to the upper floor with the camera focused on their feet ascending the stairs… perfect.
When Will rejoins the party after hearing Choi’s chilling voicemail, the music is almost like a swarm of bees… it’s perfect. There’s just so many small, understated moments that make this movie stand out to me.
You know Will is right to suspect something bizarre happening, and to be frustrated as hell by Eden and David’s overbearing eccentricity and fluffy talk about letting go of useless emotions, and yet the awkwardness and anxiety you feel when he finally starts to openly freak out is very real… but so deserved, because for much of the movie you’re reminded of our society’s bullshit willingness to suspend our real emotions in favor of being accepted or polite.
It’s this slow burn of tension for a majority of the movie until the last 20 minutes or so, which will make you grip whatever’s closest to you as you watch in disbelief. I won’t totally spoil it for you — trust me, I thought about it — but it’s good. It’s action packed and intense and disturbingly realistic and still a bit heartbreaking and the ending was just… A+. Really great all around, and this makes me even more excited to finally see XX (a horror anthology that was released this month which has a short film directed by Kasuma in it).
Rating: 8/10 | Director: Karyn Kasuma | Writer: Phil Hay, Matt Manfredi | Music: Theodore Shapiro | Starring: Logan Marshall-Green, Emayatzy Corinealdi, Tammy Blanchard, Michiel Huisman, John Carroll Lynch, Aiden Lovekamp, Michelle Krusiec, Mike Doyle, Jordi Vilasuso, Jay Larson, Marieh Delfino, Lindsay Burdge