CONFESSION: I’m going to a dinner gathering this weekend, and I’m just in that sort of antisocial state where I want to go, but I DON’T want to go because…well…people. I mean, I adore the people I’m joining, but it’s just that I’m going to have to do what I really hate doing, which is making conversation. I find I often have to force it out of me. Sooner or later during the evening, I then have to pretend I know whom or what people are talking about, and in all honesty, I often don’t once the evening progresses. Another problem with socializing at such gatherings is that one has to have stories to share. People like stories, especially when they involve out of control situations that happen to ones they know. I’ve been in hiding for months, limiting my socializing to brief moments at work, during outings with 1-2 other people, and the occasional bit of chit-chat online. Right now, the very thought of attending a dinner gathering of more than 3 people makes me want to run back home, lock up the doors, and head straight for bed. I’ve been told it’s what introverts do because the sensory and emotional experience of it all is just too much.
It damned sure is.
My aversion to such gatherings must have something to do with my love for the theme in films, but only when it all turns inward on itself, of course. Think of it this way: When parties go sour, there will finally…FINALLY…be stories for EVERYONE who’d been there to fall back on as topics of conversation. Although, it might not be the case to some of the more unfortunate characters in my favorite dinner-party-from-hell movies:
Warning: There may be spoilers ahead.
The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989, dir. Peter Greenaway)
A vicious gangster, who owns an ornate spectacle of a restaurant, senses something going on between his long-suffering wife and a bookish patron who frequents the restaurant. He’s right, of course, for not only have they been meeting in secret, they’ve been doing so right under his nose in the confines of the restaurant, thanks to the compassionate head chef who’s been entrusted with their secret. What happens after puts a brutal spin on the saying “Revenge is a dish best served cold.” Greenaway’s film is gorgeous in all of its art house horror. Each area of the restaurant is saturated in symbolic, monochromical color schemes (the shades of red in the dining room reflect meat, blood, and violence; the white restrooms are stark and cold…and so on), and the characters’ costumes’ coloring matches the room, even when the character is moving throughout the restaurant in a long take. That said, however, it’s also a brutal experience, so watch it on an empty stomach…and try not to look away.
The Last Supper (1995, dir. Stacy Title)
A regular Sunday night dinner gathering of liberal grad student pals goes haywire when a dinner guest reveals his neo-nazi side. After a heated argument that escalates to murder, the friends decide to use their dinner parties as a lure to rid the world of right wing extremists. Inevitably, their actions only serve to tear the group apart, and the war between those consumed with guilt versus those who are flat-out psychopaths eventually comes to a head. It’s one of those movies where the second something goes wrong, it only gets worse from there, a lot worse. There’s some great sociopolitical (obviously) and philosophical subtext in this one, and for the filmgoer who likes her/his dinner party disaster movies with a healthy dose of dark humor, it’s one not to miss.
You’re Next (2011, dir. Adam Wingard)
A wealthy couple invite their adult children — and their respective partners — to join them for a wedding anniversary weekend at their estate. Unfortunately, during the dinner party, some of the siblings can’t seem to help themselves in reopening old wounds, creating all sorts of tension around the table, especially for the dinner dates. To make matters ever so slightly worse, a murderous home invasion ensues right then and there involving a gang of masked, ax-and-crossbow-wielding psychopaths. (*SPOILER ALERT*) Critics have mentioned it was nice to see an unconventional “final girl” who turned out to be much more skilled than the killers, and while I certainly agree she was a lot of fun to watch, I thought the pacing of the film was the most impressive, keeping me consistently on edge while the mystery of what was happening unraveled.
Would You Rather (2012, dir. David Guy Levy)
A young woman who’s been caring for her ailing brother is on the brink of financial ruin. She’s then invited to a dinner party hosted by a philanthropist friend of her brother’s doctor and may have all of her financial worries disappear on the condition that she take part in and remain throughout the entire event. Naturally, the conditions have extreme consequences, for the dinner party consists of a motley of guests, all of whom were promised the same, and they all must take part in a lethal game of “would you rather” where there is only one survivor/winner left. Would You Rather wasn’t particularly popular among horror fans and critics, but I found it a neat, little, by-the-numbers chamber piece in that, unlike its moral quandary-themed counterparts (e.g., the entire Saw franchise), it didn’t have to rely on gratuitous gore to shock, just good ol’ fashioned implication.
It’s a Disaster (2012, dir. Todd Berger)
Arguably the funniest of all the dinner-party-from-hell movies, It’s a Disaster turns the premise into something modern and cheeky by having it set at a weekly couples’ brunch rather than a dinner. Anyway, during this socially awkward “plus one” affair, where everyone seems to be tied to each other’s gossip and grievances, the entire city is hit by chemical bomb attack that poisons the air outside, killing everyone (including a perpetually late couple in one of the most hilariously blunt moments I’ve seen in recent movies — yes, it’s partially in the trailer, too). Even though death is inevitable, no matter how they all try to prevent the gas from leaking into the house, none of it really matters because they still Just Cannot Even with each other’s issues. Everything is top-notch here from the script to the performances to the overall direction. Oh, and the ending is just priceless.
Coherence (2013, dir. James Ward Byrkit)
One of my favorite thrillers, Coherence cleverly turns the dinner-party-from-hell premise into a science fiction nightmare, one so impressively rendered without any gimmicky special effects. On the night of a comet’s passing over the earth, a dinner party among friends that had been a teensy bit tense at the start takes a strange turn when the power goes out all over the neighborhood. Upon noticing one of the houses a few blocks away still has light, two of the guests then take it upon themselves to check it out. When they return and reveal what they saw in the house, it only gets more baffling from there on. I don’t want to spoil this one because its mystery is what makes it so much fun. As I mentioned earlier, Coherence doesn’t rely on SPFX. Instead, Brykit makes simple props like a box of numbered photographs or a couple of colored glowsticks into something truly creepy. Also, the performances here are so natural, I almost felt as if I was interfering in what was happening to the guests. I cannot recommend Coherence enough. See it.
The Invitation (2015, dir. Karyn Kusama)
Another of my favorite thrillers, The Invitation is about probably the most uncomfortable dinner party ever that turns completely batshit by the time dessert rolls around. A still-grieving guy escorts his new girlfriend to a party hosted in his old house by his ex-wife, who had previously disappeared two years before into the desert after the death of their son. The ex-wife has, apparently, since transformed into a Stepford-spacey hostess, radiating rosy good will to her ex-husband, who senses something is awfully amiss. Even more baffling is the guest list that had been put together by both the ex-wife and her handsome new beau she’d met at a desert “retreat,” a guest list that consists of old friends who’d lost touch after the tragedy and creepy new friends from their little retreat. The fact that we’re at the grieving ex-husband’s side for pretty much the entirety of the film, seeing what he sees, makes us just as paranoid as he. We know Something Horrible Is Going To Happen. Kusama’s film adeptly moves with careful, calculated restraint before Kusama yanks the rug out from underneath the party with a quick, violent tug. The Invitation, much like Coherence, doesn’t rely on gratuitous SPFX to shock us into submission but uses simple props to do so. You will never look at a red lantern the same way again.