Duncan Birmingham’s Who Invited Them serves quintessential Hollywood Hills thrills on a mirrored platter. There’s a plastic L.A.-ness that comically postures atop its home invasion, which is anything but another Trespass or See for Me. Birmingham challenges his adult characters to abandon their oh-so-precious youthful vitality as nightcap hospitality becomes a dangerous proposition. With every poured drink, tension teeters on the blade of a charcuterie board’s knife. They say nothing good happens after 2 AM—Who Invited Them proves the nightlife adage entertainingly correct.
New homeowners Adam (Ryan Hansen) and Margo (Melissa Tang) celebrate their supreme realty fortune with a housewarming that defines the couple’s personalities. Adam wanders among the attendees, bragging about his famous Old Fashioned recipe and spouting cringe conversation interruptions; Margo hides in the kitchen, overwhelmed by their showy display. Guests slowly trickle home until Adam and Margo believe they’re alone—that’s when Tom (Timothy Granaderos) and Sasha (Perry Mattfeld) appear from a backroom, still ready to rage. Adam’s smitten by Tom’s flattery and offers one more drink to Margo’s dismay, which turns into refills, then higher-grade fiesta favors. It’s all debaucherous fun until Adam and Margo realize something important—neither invited Tom or Sasha.
As the golden retriever of my friend groups, there’s an energy to Who Invited Them I adore because—who am I kidding—I’d be Adam. The way Hansen portrays a good-time boy who ignores blatant red flags because he’s making a new friend after a massive lifestyle change is eerily relatable. The same goes for Tang, a proud mother who trades moderate indie rock star success to wed and raise their child. Birmingham introduces excitement and danger into the lives of lovers beyond their honeymoon phase, which sparks a reclamation within both that’s never exaggerated, yet tantalizing and illicit. Who Invited Them pays mind to cliquish popularity games more than its home invasion peers, which becomes its booze-soaked schoolyard charm.
Across from Adam and Margo stands everything they used to be—the “sexy funeral” couple as they joke, Tom in his snugly fit black suit and Sasha modeling a stunning cocktail dress. Granaderos convincingly plays a shifty so-called neighbor like he’s winking at the camera, but never oversteps boundaries that might too obviously alert us that Tom’s enjoying a deceitful game of wits. Mattfeld, a worthy accomplice, devilishly grins as she portrays a crooked gal-pal with the warmest eyes. The duo present a socially acceptable level of diabolical swagger on purpose, like vampires who require afterparty invitations. Birmingham’s attention to tonality and performative suspense understands the “marathon not a sprint” adage about all-night binges, like a parade of delicious (er, dastardly) amuse-bouches before the bloody-red sizzlin’ steak of a finale signals our main course.
That said, the manipulation methods on display are a bit more character-driven than hoped. Escalation relies on missing rodents, jealousy when ex-bandmates are phoned and the idea of sexual fantasies that fit Los Angeles socialite mythologies. There’s no backdoor mystery despite the morbid reasons for the steal of a price Adam got on the house, because you can’t hide inevitability with only two couples. That said, I’ll accept an 80-minute film’s sin being simplicity. Birmingham leaves some gristle on already bare bones, yet the writer/director does a tremendous job seasoning Who Invited Them with a spicy deviousness that keeps the rich genre flavors popping.
As lager bottles shatter and drivers curse the winding roads that zig-zag through The Hills, Who Invited Them makes the most of any introvert’s nightmares. While the narrative reduces itself to the sum of intoxicated and aggravated performances, that’s not a party foul. Birmingham indulges his actors without making a fool of the production, remaining collected while intensifying the sadistic chameleon act that goes unquestioned. It’s stripped-down psychological warfare as instigators observe their handiwork with vile glee—it may not be the most expensive bottle in the display case, but still a concoction that brings on the buzz.
Director: Duncan Birmingham
Writer: Duncan Birmingham
Starring: Ryan Hansen, Melissa Tang, Timothy Granaderos, Perry Mattfeld
Release Date: September 1, 2022 (Shudder)
Matt Donato is a Los Angeles-based film critic currently published on SlashFilm, Fangoria, Bloody Disgusting, and anywhere else he’s allowed to spread the gospel of Demon Wind. He is also a member of the Hollywood Critics Association. Definitely don’t feed him after midnight.