Rating: 4 out of 5.

A stranger in one’s home is the single most invasive and chilling thought the mind can muster. It is a tale as old as time, and for the horror genre, home invasion flicks are practically their bread and butter. Funny Games, The Strangers, and You’re Next may remain the gold standard in home invasion horror chillers, but Who Invited Them is a damn solid entry into the canon. The debut feature film from writer/director Duncan Birmingham, Who Invited Them is a twisted, unconventional take on the uninvited house guest.

After moving into their stunning new house and careful to remember that “a home is only as good as the friends who fill it,” Adam (Ryan Hansen, Friday the 13th, Veronica Mars) and Margot (Melissa Tang, A Good Day to Die Hard, The Kominsky Method) throw a massive housewarming party. It is so huge, in fact, that who can possibly keep track of the guest list? They realize neither of them know the random young couple that came to the “super curated gathering,” and weirdly enough they are last to linger inside the home. Introducing themselves as the neighbors, this sexy duo almost immediately seem to be playing mind games. The mysterious male with the perfect cheekbone structure is Tom (Timothy Granaderos, Monty in 13 Reasons Why, Hulu’s Plan B), and his alluring blonde girlfriend is Sasha (Perry Mattfeld, In the Dark, Shameless). Who invited them?

Duncan Birmingham’s script seems to be constantly asking this question, practically imploring the viewer to shout it at their screen. Adam and Margot’s relationship is already simmering over with unresolved issues, so tossing in a warped form of couple’s therapy doesn’t necessarily do them any favors. Tom and Sasha appear to toy with Adam and Margot at every opportunity. Breaking off into small factions, Tom mines Adam for information (like how they got this house so cheap!), whilst Sasha sinks her claws into Margot and her insecurities. Before long, the night devolves into chatter of a four-way sexual experience, snorted drugs, secrets revealed, and explosion of rising tensions.

To reveal more would dive too deeply into spoilers, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out Sasha and Tom are complex villains with shocking backstories. The way Birmingham weaves together the threads of the past with this relationship proves to be an irresistible concoction. As the intriguing strangers, Granaderos and Mattfeld light up the screen, layering their roles with subtext and manipulations. Long before the film presents monologuing, duct tape, and knives, the viewer is completely immersed in the struggles of this wealthy couple.

Who Invited Them doesn’t forget about the shocking imagery, holding the cards closest to its metaphorical chest until the ideal moment. When the horror does arrive, mysteries unravel at rapid pace, and close out the film in impressive open-ended fireworks. A couple of plot threads don’t pay off as well as expected, but for the most part, the pared-down narrative works well especially in establishing our leads. Brutal bursts of violence are few and far between, though effective when they do emerge. Who Invited Them is a searing horror thriller that reminds us of an indisputable truth: never trust your neighbors.

Who Invited Them screened at 2022’s Overlook Film Festival. It comes to Shudder later this year.

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