Monday, August 23, 2021

Don't Forget the Wine

Of all the experiences I've missed out on during the pandemic, one of the absolute dumbest, yet deepest felt, is sharing a giant, colorful charcuterie board with friends, claiming the best cheese first then dutifully eating the last bites so as to get our money's worth. For perhaps this reason alone, I was primed for a horror movie that included an extensively wordy argument about what best goes on a wooden board of delicacies.

Folks, it's been a weird year. Here's a weird movie just for you.

Quick Plot: Jeff is an emerging playwright hoping to score some financial backing for the Broadway debut of his latest work. In order to grease some money wheels, he takes his young wife Haley to a dinner party thrown by the wealthy, weird Carmine.

Haley isn't thrilled to socialize, since her last outing was at a mental institution, but she puts on her sundress and does her duty, even as Carmine's circle of upper class, overly cultured friends proceeds to act stranger and stranger.

Yes, they're some variation of satanists, and yes, cannibalism will indeed show up, along with necrophilia and some very confused psychological explanations for sexual preference. Most of those aspects of The Dinner Party try far too hard to be shocking and gross, but the deeper character-based throughline of Haley's journey from lifelong victim to supernaturally infused sorceress actually has some merit.

The Dinner Party was directed and co-written by Miles Doleac, who also costars as one of Carmine's snobby, sociopath guests, along with his real-life wife Lindsay Anne Williams (who also did the costumes and co-produced). I mention this because it actually helps explain some of The Dinner Party's strengths: for as pretentiously obnoxious as the guests are, they also do indeed feel like a solid group with a long shared history together.  

Overall, The Dinner Party moves a bit like a slog, with some forced grossness and the kind of mean flashbacks to sexual abuse that have unfortunately become all too common in modern horror. It's a bit of shame because Doleac and co-writer Michael Donovan Horn do tap into some new ideas, including long metaphors about opera's ties to violence and female empowerment overcoming some ancient male power dynamics. Had Doleac trusted some of his more unique (for the genre) refined style, I think The Dinner Party could have been something special. 

High Points
I do appreciate a movie that understands IMMEDIATELY how awful its central male character is, and The Dinner Party is very aware of Jeff's toxicity and just how much Haley needs to break away from it

Low Points

Can we please put a moratorium on horror movies opening on a scene of violence that occurs 50 minutes into the runtime, then cutting immediately to the credits and starting its narrative off proper? We can call it the Law of Don't Breathe, plus two dozen other recent titles that seem terrified of losing their genre audience before the horrors kick in halfway through the movie. All it does is throw the story off, then spoil itself when the audience sees a character dressed as he was in the opening and says, "oh, I guess that guy will die since I've already SEEN it happen." So filmmakers: please stop

Lessons Learned
The curse of owning an expensive house is owning an equally expensive security policy

Common courtesy is to bring a 12 dollar bottle of red to a dinner party

Novelist is a more elegant term than writer

At almost two hours, The Dinner Party could definitely have used some more time on the editing slab, and while I do think there are some good ideas and signs of skill, the actual act of sitting through this all at once is not something I'd readily recommend. It's on Amazon Prime (or was at the time of this review) and worth a gander for decently made low budget completists.


  1. I thoroughly agree re: horrors showing all the horror to come at the end, but at the very start. I hate it for the same reasons I hate watching trailers for films -- I don't want to see the most exciting parts now, it will just rob them of their power later on.

    Also, on the topic of crummy films being way too long these days: wtf is with this trend? Every Marvel movie is 2.5 hrs long and it drives me nuts. I just saw that the latest Mortal Kombat movie is almost 2 hrs too. MORTAL KOMBAT! What complex emotional, cerebral ideas is Mortal Kombat trying to communicate that require that kind of length? Shit, man. And let me just say, I watched the longest version of Das Boot and loved it. I actually enjoy good, long, slow burn, I just don't understand why the most mind-numbing of modern films are so dang long now. I bet there's a financial reason I'm unaware of.

    1. I think on the length, there really must be some secret financial benefit to going over 110 minutes. It used to be that you'd want to maximize the number of showings you could have in a movie theater (so too long and you cut down on potential ticket sales) but that's clearly no longer in play.

      I used to get roasted for complaining about movies being too long, but I think the world is starting to agree with me! And as you said, there's absolutely NOTHING wrong with length if it's warranted. No great movie is too long or too short. But when a film wastes time (as every Marvel one does), it feels...intrusive? Rude, maybe?

      And UGH the "let's show a clip from 50 minutes into the movie as the prologue" thing. I feel like it started with High Tension. It's like using a narrator: it CAN work, but 90% of the time it damages your storytelling. It has to be done so specifically well (and in a way that's non-spoilering) and for a purpose. Funny because I'm right in the middle of Season 2 of Hannibal, which opens on a scene that comes towards the end as a teaser. It does "spoil" some of the storytelling, but because you're watching a show that already had a clear roadmap, it doesn't really feel like it's robbing you of a major reveal, and instead, keeps you excited wondering when it comes into play.

      But most filmmakers are sadly not Bryan Fuller!