Set in Canberra amongst a group of friends about to have a dinner party, the story is, from the beginning, quite unsettling. We know from the start that the two hosts, a young and beautiful couple, are planning to kill themselves. As such, it is a farewell party.
First alarm bell: of the people invited, there don’t seem to be any close friends, apart from a young woman whom we see with the female lead from the start.
If this is such a poignant moment for the couple, why aren’t their friends close to them? Do they have an ethical disagreement, perhaps? Do they have any close friends at all? And if there is a disagreement, why is nobody trying to intervene? Why does no-one, at any point, ask “Why”?
As the movie proceeds and the dinner party begins, the suicide epilogue seems to get murkier and more sinister. Is this really a suicide pact or is there something more macabre going on?
The couple in question, Angela and Joel (played by Lara Cox and Ben Seton) bicker a lot. The tiffs are mostly initiated by Angela, who seems to have a chip on her shoulder about most things. She is a complex character, hard to like, but hypnotic to watch.
As Joel tries to please her, it becomes obvious that his devotion to her has alienated a lot of his friends and family, who do not approve of the relationship. We see glimpses of the two of them in short flashbacks, meeting and falling in love, carefree and happy, in sharp contrast to their present reality, where an obsessively controlling Angela pushes away all who disagree with her.
It soon becomes apparent that she has a number of personal issues, and is perhaps mentally unstable. Her friend, who accompanies her to get two doses of ready-to-inject heroin, and is then manipulated into getting another two, is a weak character, easy to control for the manipulative Angela.
I cannot tell you more about the plot at this point without spoiling it for you. Inspired by a real-life case which took place in 1997 and has already originated a theatre play in Australia (Criminology), this is a hot topic in these days of political correctness and fear of interfering in other people’s rights.
The big issue here has to be: when is it right to step in to prevent harm being done to another human being? Who has a duty of care?
The characters in the movie seem selfishly concerned about themselves (one goes to the dinner for the free food, and leaves with his friend when he sees evidence that Joel may have been drugged by his girlfriend). They justify their actions (or non-actions) with fear for themselves and fear of being held responsible for just standing by. So they do nothing.
It is a topic which has resonance all around the world, in times when stories of neglect flood thick and fast. We stay self-involved in our ever diminishing microcosm, surrounded by dozens of means of communication, but using them to stay away from people, justifying our unwillingness to get involved or interfere by thinking that it’s not our business and someone else will probably do something about it. How many times have we been in such a predicament?
Lest this be a preachy review, let’s go back to the filmmaking at hand. This extraordinary little feature has been shot on a location in Canberra in about two weeks, an intense and fast low budget shoot, which probably makes the movie all the more powerful and suitably claustrophobic for it. Lara Cox is excellent in the lead role, she and the rest of the cast work well together, the tension is palpable and the steady pace contributes to its crescendo.
There have been several films and TV movies called “The Dinner Party” produced in the last 15 years. Do not get confused with the many comedies that share this title.
This one was written and directed by Scott Murden in 2009, an impressive first feature length effort for a director who only has a short film in his credits.
The DVD sound is not great, probably due to the low budget nature of the film, and there are no extras to speak of, apart from the director commentary and a theatrical trailer.
The Dinner Party DVD is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.