9 disturbing dinner party movies

What’s with cinema’s obsession with dinner parties? Sure, bringing family and friends together for an evening of food and merriment is great, but is it worth basing an entire film around? Well, yes, as it turns out. You see, in the film world, dinner parties inevitably devolve into something much less civilized, as the darker undertones of the evening slowly reveal themselves.

The dinner party movie is one of the most underappreciated (and unofficial) sub-genres out there. with the The Feast coming to cinemas on 19 August — the latest in the films set around a table canon — here are eight great dinner party movies to add to your watchlist.

The Feast (2022)

Slow-burn horror has become all the rage these days, implementing moody scores, minimal dialogue and striking visuals to create feelings of unyielding dread. Few burn slower than The Feast, but that’s not an insult — this is a seriously creepy movie steeped in palpable atmosphere. The Welsh-language horror from longtime television director Lee Haven Jones follows Cadi (Annes Elwy), who’s been hired to help prepare a dinner party for wealthy elites. Horror movies have a tendency to over-explain, but The Feast refuses to hold your hand, creating a vivid, bloody terror that functions as a powerful allegory on greed, class and the environment. You may not understand exactly what’s going on at times, but it’s definitely gonna freak you out.

Coherence (2014)

One of the most audacious and thrilling directorial debuts of the 2000s, James Ward Byrkit’s Coherence keeps you guessing every step of the way. This ultra-low budget sci-fi finds eight friends (including Hustlers writer-director Lorene Scafaria) coming together for a delightful dinner party. Things get weird before all the guests arrive, with Em’s (Emily Baldoni) phone screen shattering in her hand on the way there. Frankly, that’s one of the most normal things that happens in the entire film, as a comet passing closely over Earth soon makes things really freaking weird. A truly ingenious script (also by James Ward Byrkit) keeps the excitement at a delirious high for every one of the film’s creative, mind-bending and eerie 89 minutes.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

Not strictly a dinner party movie, but The Texas Chainsaw Massacre has one of the most bone-tingling, spine-chilling dinner sequences of them all. Final girl Sally (Marilyn Burns) is screaming for her life, bound to a chair at a table surrounded by some of the most twisted people you’ve ever seen in a film. She begs to be freed, surrounded by chairs fashioned from bones, and a lampshade made from a human face.

The Invitation (2016)

A man accepts a dinner party invitation from his ex-wife and her new husband. Sure, it’s an awkward situation for Will (Logan Marshall-Green) and his new girlfriend Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi), but perhaps it’ll be nice? Well, if dinner party movies have taught us anything, it’s that things are about to go awry. Things get uncomfortable when Will’s ex-wife Eden (Tammy Blanchard) starts to tell them about a cult-like group she’s recently joined to get over her overwhelming grief. what The Invitation does so well is create tension. Director Karyn Kusama plays with your nerves like a fiddle. If you love your films with a healthy dose of “will I get through this experience alive?”, then The Invitation will be right up your alley.

Festen (1998)

The Danish film movement Dogme 95 was all about taking filmmaking to its roots, ridding the medium of special effects and any hint of sensationalism in an effort to make cinema that feels organic and reflective of reality. Thomas Vinterberg’s Festen (The Celebrationin English) is the best film from the movement, and it’s remarkable that a film made with such restrictive measures feels so alive. Festen is set at a grand hotel, where a beloved, powerful patriarch is celebrating his 60th birthday. What’s set to be a lavish celebration turns sour when starting revelations are made against the man of the hour. In a bid to forgo any and every cinematic convention, Thomas Vinterberg created a stunning portrait of a family at breaking point.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)

Based on the terrific Edward Albee play, Mike Nichols’ (The Graduate) perfect debut feature finds George (Richard Burton) and Martha (Elizabeth Taylor) returning home from a party. However, the night isn’t over — Martha has invited over a young couple, Nick (George Segal) and Honey (Sandy Dennis) to keep the night going. The bitterness and vitriol are off the charts as George and Martha sling barbarous insults back and forth, to the astonishment of the young couple.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967)

One of the very few examples of a dinner party movie where things don’t devolve into a complete nightmare is Stanley Kramer’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. The film finds Joanna (Katherine Houghton), a young white liberal coming home to surprise her parents — Christina (Katharine Hepburn) and father Matt (Spencer Tracy) — with the newfound love of her life, John (Sidney Poitier), a successful Black doctor. Though some aspects of the film’s politics are dated by today’s standards, the film was genuinely radical at the time, released months after the Loving v. Virginia Supreme Court case ruled that banning inter-racial marriage was unconstitutional. It refuses easy answers, forcing people to confront their prejudices in an insightful, incisive and frank manner.

The Exterminating Angel (1962)

One of cinema’s finest visionaries, Luis Buñuel was never one to keep his bold opinions secret, and would often place scathing critiques of the bourgeoisie in his films. The master has made many great films, but his most provocative may just be The Exterminating Angel. The concept is simple: a group of society’s wealthiest individuals attend a dinner party of considerable opulence. Afterwards, they find themselves inexplicably unable to leave. As the days go on, madness and delirium kick in, and it’s not long before things get all Lord of the Flies-y. A mischievous and damning mockery of the upper classes, this one will make you rethink attending a dinner party at a wealthy friends’ house next time.

Rope (1948)

Alfred Hitchcock’s Master of Suspense rope places an interesting twist on the genre. Instead of having a dinner party where things happen to go wrong, Brandon (John Dall) and Phillip (Farley Granger) host the event to cover up what’s already gone wrong: a murder. The entire film takes place in a single location, unfolding in real-time as tensions become unbearable and suspicions threaten to overwhelm a seemingly flawless plan. It’s incredibly entertaining and tense, and earns some serious points for being Hitchock’s gayest film, bursting at the seams with homosexual subtext.

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