Having watched Shudder’s latest exclusive and original feature, Who Invited Them, I was immediately struck with how much I dig Ryan Hansen as a performer. Here he plays Adam, one half of a couple who have recently bought well into an influential neighbourhood. Now wanting to show off this asset, Adam and Margo (Melissa Tang) throw a housewarming party to celebrate with friends and who they consider to be the social elite from their contacts.
Beneath this affable exterior however is a more sinister and unsettling characteristic that they both share, and it is this that writer, director Duncan Birmingham, along with the mysterious “neighbours” Sasha (Perry Mattfeld) and Tom (Timothy Granaderos) wish to expose.
Once the party has settled, Sasha and Tom hang back and slowly work together to find the cracks and flaws in Ryan and Margo’s world to break them. At first, they tease and play with their would-be victims, like predators toying with their prey. Soon, they begin to dial up the trauma and crank up the tension between them all.
It’s fairly slow-paced, but Birmingham’s exposure of society under the lens of a wealth facade is delicately tweaked out to a macabre and destructive end.
Where it mars a little, it’s in some of the forced performances that at times don’t ring true (Hansen excluded) and this jars the flow of the dialogue in places. There are some nice comical moments in the mix of the lurid lamentations. It leans heavily into the unbelievable by the films’ end which some may embrace and others will turn away from.
Who Invited Them? is steaming on Shudder from Thurs1st Aug.
Whilst we’re a far cry from the original tv series inspiration that spawned this horror-themed adaptation, it is hard to shake off the image of Hervé Villechaize’s infamous cry at the beginning of most episodes to announce the arrival of the next unwitting visitors to Fantasy Island. The film does have its own nods with an entirely different character, Julie (loosely based on Mr. Roarke’s God-daughter from the series in name mainly) declaring the arrival of our main characters Melanie (Lucy Hale), Gwen (Maggie Q), Patrick (Austin Stowell), Brax (Jimmy O. Yang), and JD (Ryan Hansen).
Each of these characters come with their own baggage that slowly unravels as they try to live out their fantasy with inevitable consequences.
Michael Pena does his best to wrangle out the magnanimous and mysterious Mr Roarke, so closely identified with Ricardo Montalbán’s tv portrayal, who in my pre-adolescent mind has strangely warped with Christopher Lee’s Saramanga from The Man With The Golden Gun, partly due to Villechaize starring in both projects. The problem is that Pena is left with little to do other than to play out the characters fantasies. Despite harbouring a secret of his own, this is underplayed to serve out the interactions of the island itself.
This may have been a wise choice if these fantasies had any firm grounding, but instead seem a bit wishy-washy. Melanie is out for revenge from being bullied at school and admittedly the initial encounter is fun and intriguing as she unwittingly dishes out her anger through what she believes is a hologram of her tormentor, but once that has played its part the rest of her journey is left wanting.
Likewise Patrick’s army pursuit to live out his father’s life only to encounter his real father, and brothers Patrick and Brax living up a bachelor style freedom and entertainment lacks any personality or appeal.
The only hook for me was Maggie Q’s performance of Gwen that remains believable, who at first believes her fantasy is to change her history by saying yes to a man’s proposal whom she loved and to have a daughter, however she never really believes she deserves this version of her life as like the others, she has a darker history lurking beneath and it is this reproduction that she realises needs to play out.
Oh and a great cameo from Kim Coates who simply hams up his role gloriously. More of him was desperately needed.
As the audience is left weaving their way through a convoluted storyline and the various morals and dilemmas that each of the characters faces, we’re left unable to truly connect to any of them as there simply isn’t enough substance.
When the big reveal finally happens, it feels tacked on and peels slowly away with an incredibly unsatisfying conclusion.
It’s poorly managed and no matter how much Michael Rooker tries to inject some much needed gravitas into the fold as the strange guy who knows the secret of the island, he simply can’t lift it out of the quagmire of murkiness. The problem appears to be that the film doesn’t know how to present itself; horror, comedy, thriller.
Blumhouse who have made a name for attracting audiences to their take on teen horror, may have fallen into tired territory now with the relatively week turnouts in Ma, and Black Christmas last year. Has the fizz run out from this production company?
It would have been interesting to see it played out by masters of the fantastical in either Del Toro or Bayona and really blend those eerie mystical moments with horror elements.
Maybe it just isn’t our fantasy that’s being played out after all and perhaps i should just go back to my morphed take of Montalbán and Lee to deliver my ideal of Mr. Roarke and a dark world that lay beneath Fantasy Island. A missed opportunity.