THE DINNER PARTY
Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Diane Brook over at OctoberCoast PR for allowing me early access to an online screener of the new Horror/Thriller film “The Dinner Party”, Co-Written and Directed by Miles Doleac (Hallowed Ground). The Dinner Party sees promising playwright, Jeff (played by Mike Mayhall) and his young wife Haley (the lovely Alli Hart), attending a lavish dinner at the Victorian-style home of elitist couple Carmine and Sebastian (played respectively by Bill Sage and Sawandi Wilson) with the hopes of procuring a bankroll for their planned venture. The couple has no idea what the hosts have in store for them though. The film also stars Miles Doleac (Don’t Kill It) Lindsay Anne Williams (Hallowed Ground), Kamille McCuin, and Jeremy London.
I had the opportunity to see Doleac’s previous feature Hallowed Ground (of which he also starred in) not too long ago. Now, whilst it didn’t really gel for me I still respected the production values and liked the Native American sliver of the story. Some shared themes are once again on display in Miles’ latest horror film but the end result is disappointingly much the same. Let’s talk about what I did like though. Big tick in relation to Michael Williams (who has built a nice resume in short films over the last decade) with his consistent and smooth cinematography – the film appears to be presented in full CinemaScope, which I liked. The early establishing shots (pre-credits) are stylish, the wides look great, and everything is nicely framed and well lit. The audio track is clean, there’s some effective sound design here and there, and composer Clifton Hyde has a few memorable sections early in proceedings with what sounds like either an oboe or a bassoon, used in order to get a unique sound. The action is on the scarce side for what was marketed primarily as a horror/cannibal flick. That said, there is a bit of early red stuff and some decent kills and practical blood and gore in the closing stages.
I was genuinely excited to see Bill Sage (who most will remember as Van Patten in American Psycho) pop up in this one, and he turns in a nice little stagy performance as Carmine, co-host, and chef. The pairing of Mayhall and Hart initially appears a stretch given the obvious age gap, but as luck would have it, certain details come to light that gives credence to support the duo’s relationship. Both deliver serviceable performances, so to Kamille and Lindsay, who play additional guests to the party. I can certainly see Sawandi Wilson going places though, now it helps that he’s given a majority of the meaty dialogue and therefore more room to wiggle in terms of theatrics, but he still has to pull it off – which he does. From the moment he answers the door to the overeager Jeff and his trepidatious partner Haley you know the cogs have begun turning. I hoped to see a little more of Haley’s psychological damage further explored, as she was easily the most interesting character in the film.
There’s something that’s quickly become a pet hate of mine, and that’s more prominent performers (name actors for lack of a better term) being disingenuously top-billed (on credits) for films they only appear in for a very short space of time. I understand many films and filmmakers have done it and continue to do it, and so it’s likely going to come off as a little unfair blaming any one person or those responsible for marketing The Dinner Party like they’re the only ones, but still, the same has been done again here in regard to Jeremy London (best known for Kevin Smith’s “Mallrats”). London appears in a singular flashback as Haley’s stepfather, and in fact, his face isn’t even shown. He has a couple of lines of dialogue and that’s it. Yet everywhere you look he’s at the top of the list of actors associated with this project and that’s just wrong. It’s a tough industry and I understand that getting your product out there isn’t easy, but for genuine cinephiles like myself, it leaves a sour taste in the mouth when these sorts of things occur. All that said, some mismarketing isn’t the real issue with The Dinner Party, that lay with the extremely inflated near 120-minute runtime and the sluggish pacing of the whole thing. Those two pieces of the puzzle, in a nutshell, are mostly what holds the film back from being identified as an indie-made gem. There are a few other issues such as Doleac’s patchy British accent that ends up sounding more like Jason Statham doing an Australian accent. Moreoever, some of the particulars feel a bit stale as we’ve seen most of them done before and in better fashion.
The Dinner Party feels like a cross between something like “The Invitation” and the underappreciated “The Perfect Guest”, only this one, unfortunately, wears out its welcome. I’ll never understand why independent filmmakers feel the need to stew in their own self-indulgence, especially when pacing and length is everything these days. I can’t help but think that didn’t have to be the case. If you were to simply omit the excessive regurgitation at the dinner table of themes of famous operas and how they translate in real life this would be quite nice to digest at around 80 minutes – the result would be a very tight, concise and much different one, but alas. Still, one can’t deny the quality camera work, the sharp audio, and sound design, coupled with a solid band of performances, all of which are worth praising. Those of you who are partial to a real slow-burn (and I mean slow) may be better equipped to extract a little more from this one than I could. Feel free to give the trailer a little look and the film will officially be available on DVD and Digital platforms from June 5th.
The Dinner Party – 4/10