The discreet motive of the eccentric rich in The Dinner Party is not the only mystery driving this horror-thriller. As we follow ambitious playwright Jeff (Mike Mayhall) and his girlfriend Haley (Alli Hart) into the mansion and through their hosts’ eerie stories and chatter, we realize a sinister and bloody night is in store for our protagonists. The Dinner Party parallels the uneasy feeling you have at your partner’s business opportunity gathering, with a hellish gathering of sadistic superiors poking at your insecurities (literally!).
On the technical side, the movie is shot beautifully by cinematographer Michael Williams. I was surprised how perfectly lit each scene was, supplementing the performances with mood lighting that perfectly meshes with each situation. I was equally impressed with the sound design (supervised by Jon Vogl), which can often stand out and be awkward when not done right. Unfortunately, the scoring by Clifton Hyde is not on par. The unintentional campiness brought on by the music in some instances really takes the movie down a notch. In places where the action would have played out just fine with no scoring at all, the cliche choices made by Vogl is almost cringeworthy. In these cases, less would have definitely been more.
On a lighter side, the performances really bring vibrant life to the film. Alli Hart could have a bright future if given the opportunity to showcase her talent to wider audiences. As the character of Haley and her dark past, she proves she is capable of being more than a pretty face. The director Miles Doleac himself also gives an engaging performance as the devilish Vincent. Bill Sage is charmingly deceptive as the cultured Carmine. And finally, Lindsay Anne Williams is great as Sadie who has veiled motives of her own.
The writing is like a love child of Quentin Tarantino and Wes Craven. Many of the tension building scenes use telling of stories and obscure facts, like those heard in movies like Pulp Fiction. Just as a peaceful conversation about cheeseburgers in France between two gangsters gives us a glimpse of their innocent curiosity, the fables told by the party guests in The Dinner Party actually hints at their sinister intentions. This, combined with the horror-action from something like The Hills Have Eyes, gives us an exciting, character-driven slasher fest that is sure to please those in need of a thrill.
The story of the “party from hell” is not an unexplored idea, and it can be a fun format for a horror flick. Though this one does a good job covering bases as far as character back story and progression of events, there is just not enough there to recommend it the way I would a similar movie like The Invitation (2015), which really benefits from the absence of forced evil laughter and out-of-nowhere outbursts anger, which are regrettably present in The Dinner Party.
5 out of 10 screams