Who Invited Them Review: The Charming Home Invasion Thriller Overstays Its Welcome

Imagine if a filmmaker mixed the creeping dread of 2007's "Funny Games" with the natural cast chemistry of 2019's "Villains." At its best, Duncan Birmingham's "Who Invited Them" succeeds in becoming something akin to that killer home invasion recipe. Written and directed by Birmingham, "Who Invited Them" is at once a familiar and seemingly predictable horror film and one that aspires to put a darkly romantic spin on its cautionary tale.

Birmingham's feature film has a solid story, and from its first rock-pop needle-drop, audiences sense that Adam (Ryan Hansen) and Margo's (Melissa Tang) relationship will be one rife with mistrust and the promising bloodshed that aspirational wealth brings. "Who Invited Them" opens on the eve of the couple's housewarming party, with the couple having vastly different feelings about their upward mobility move. Adam craves belonging to an elite society filled with VCs, whereas Margo fears she will not (and doesn't want to) fit into a circle of "snobs." Throw two surprise house guests into the mix — the chic Tom (Timothy Granaderos) and Sasha (Perry Mattfeld) — and the couple's party soon exposes the deep misunderstandings within their home and relationship.

Home is where the evidence lives

While it might sound like a slight to call the film's premise predictable, horror fans know best that a familiar setup is an integral part of home-invasion films. We don't watch this subgenre to be surprised (necessarily) at how the bait-and-switch happens, so much as we vicariously (and knowingly) watch to see if the film's characters fall prey to it. Watching Granaderos' Tom and Mattfeld's Sasha trick the couple into revealing all the cracks in their relationship provides some compellingly dark fun. Tom and Sasha easily position themselves to manipulate the insecure and uncommunicative couple, with The CW's "In the Dark" star Mattfeld notably landing some pitch-perfect sinister smiles and coy emotional beats.

However, the baiting of Adam and Margo takes up more than two-thirds of the film's runtime. Unlike 2007's "Funny Games," which intuitively knew when to switch its killers into attack mode, "Who Invited Them" lingers too long on its villains playing with their lure. Even though the film's small talk carefully sows seeds for dramatic tension later, the characters' reactions aren't sharp enough to land what feels like a half-hearted followthrough. Hansen and Tang perform admirably but the story limits their potential. Part of the fun of home invasion films is seeing what happens when one of the victims catches on to being the prey sooner than others and how that changes the film's dynamics and tensions. Sadly, neither Tom nor Margo are allotted much wit, limiting what their leading roles can do.

More small talk than bloodshed

The film's final act reveals the killer duo's motive, which unfortunately fills the viewer with unfulfilled wonder. While it's plenty fun to see Sasha and Tom finally spill some blood, "Who Invited Them" falters because it keeps Adam and Margo out of the loop too long. "Who Invited Them" robs its storyline of difficult character interactions and choices. As a result, the action in "Who Invited Them" comes swift, clean, and with little consequence. 

But, at its heart, this was never a home invasion film hellbent on delivering a twisty game that forever alters its players' view of each other. "Who Invited Them" cares more about investigating the gaps between Adam and Margo's understanding of one another than platforming a new and terrifying killer duo or breaking down Adam and Margo into vengeful people. Overall, the film's horrific premise about unrelenting house guests feels more like set-dressing for a feature film about a failing marriage that could have put up more of a fight.

Although "Who Invited Them" doesn't deliver anything new to horror, it entertainingly plays with the idea of, "What will it take this married couple to realize their relationship needs work?" There's a charm that comes with the film's emotional core that even the film's killers are aware of in the end. What's truly scary isn't the unknown threat but how easy it is to become thoughtless in a relationship and how this might one day lead to certain doom.

/Film Rating: 5 out of 10