Six years after she made the better-than-you-remember Jennifer’s Body, Girlfight director Karyn Kusama returns with this incredibly tense, and frankly incredible, thriller about grief set at an increasingly uncomfortable dinner party. It’s a film that we’d recommend knowing as little about as possible before watching, but it’s safe to say that it’s superb.
Will (Logan Marshall-Green) goes with his girlfriend Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi) to a dinner party hosted by his ex-wife Eden (Tammy Blanchard) and her new husband David (Michiel Huisman). It’s been two years since Will last saw Eden, and he’s still struggling to get over the death of their young son, so he’s got his defences up as he arrives at his old home despite the presence of their old friends.
Shortly after everyone arrives, Eden and David reveal that they have a specific reason for wanting to see everyone again. Will in particular reacts badly to this, but is he just struggling to cope with a difficult emotional situation, or is something sinister actually happening?
Kusama and her writers Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi have done a brilliant job of creating an horribly awkward situation, carefully placing the viewer into it, and slowly making us more and more anxious. From the opening sequence in which Will is forced to put a wounded coyote out of its misery, we’re absolutely on edge, helped by Marshall-Green’s excellent lead performance.
It’s hard to know exactly where to place our sympathies. Will’s grief is very much still raw and exposed, while Eden’s self-declared happiness comes from letting go of her pain, which is something that Will can’t accept. While we as an audience (and especially as a genre audience) are primed to be suspicious of anyone trying to push their recipe for joy onto other people, Will’s behaviour makes it hard to gauge whether he’s actually onto anything or not.
We get the sense that he’d probably be a little less uneasy if it weren’t for the presence of two strangers/friends of David’s: the wired but (possibly over-) friendly Sadie (Lindsay Burdge) and the eerily calm, disconcertingly honest Pruitt (John Carrol Lynch). Is Will right to find their being invited to the party a little strange, or is he being rude to guests invited by the hosts? Is it odd that David locks the door, or is he genuinely concerned for their safety after a series of break-ins?
As the night goes on and Will goes from barbed remarks to increasingly violent outbursts, Kusama expertly ratchets up the tension, and it’s worth pointing out the excellent sound design, cutting in and out of conversations and Will’s awful memories of his loss. While Marshall-Green’s gripping turn is the clear standout, the entire ensemble is excellent, with Huisman, Blanchard, Corinealdi, Burdge and particularly Lynch on very good form.
It takes a lot of skill to slowly tighten the screws as expertly as this, and Kusama’s return is a fantastically tense piece of work. Anxiety-inducing and beautifully constructed, we highly recommend this intelligent, sensitive and powerful film.