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“The Dinner Party” is an Australian independent feature that has enjoyed success on the festival circuit, having been an official selection at the Australian Film Festival and nominated for Best Debut Feature at Raindance in London in 2009. Apparently inspired by tragic true life events, the film marks the debut of writer director Scott Murden and has a few recognisable faces in the cast for soap opera fans, including Laura Cox (who featured in the popular series “Heartbreak High” and “Home and Away”) and Ben Setan (“Water Rats”). The film now arrives on region 2 DVD via Kaleidoscope Home Entertainment, coming with audio commentary from Murden.
The film revolves around Angela (Laura Cox), a disturbed young woman whose turbulent relationship with long suffering boyfriend Joel seems to be heading for its end. Deciding to kill herself, she organises a dinner party for Joel and a handful of friends, planning to take at least one of them with her when she goes. Although her guests don’t initially take her behaviour too seriously, they slowly come to realise that realise that they may have a moral responsibility to take action, not only to try and save her, but also Joel, and even themselves.
Although the premise of “The Dinner Party” is interesting enough, Murden sadly proves himself to be a rather clumsy storyteller, failing to engage or bring what could have been a suspenseful situation to life. The film’s uneven structure doesn’t help, as though it ostensibly revolves around flashbacks stemming from police interviews, the drama jumps around inconsistently and without any real sense of pace. Of course, this technique means that it is pretty clear from early on who survives the night, and this takes away from any tension that there might have been, and effectively robs the film of any eventual payoff. Worse still, Murden subjects the viewer to endless flashbacks within flashbacks, making it all feel meandering and needlessly convoluted, not least since most of these scenes have very little relevance.
This might have been forgivable if the film at least had some sympathetic characters, though sadly this is not the case, and the viewer is likely to spend the long, drawn out running time wishing for them all to shut up and die. Most of their dinner conversations are inane to the extreme, ranging from pretentious monologues to bragging about drug use, none of which are endearing or interesting in the slightest. For some reason Murden keeps his two central characters, Angela and Joel at a distance from the viewer, never really allowing them to be defined beyond the broad strokes of being boyfriend/girlfriend and obviously crazy/sane but stupid.
The film also suffers from most of the pitfalls of the low budget indie form, with a cheap, made for television look and some cringe worthy acting that further undermines the drama. The only cast member who rises above the material is Cox, who turns in a far better and more layered performance than the film deserves, and who brings a touch of life to a woefully underwritten role. Another vague plus is some effectively low key cinematography from Brett Murphy which edges some sequences of the film towards being atmospheric – only to be drowned out by Oonagh Sherrad’s relentlessly dull and dreary musical score.
“The Dinner Party” is a film ultimately sunk by a pervading air of pointlessness, offering very little in the way of tension, interest or entertainment. This is somewhat of a shame, as its premise is ripe for a disturbing psychological and philosophical exploration of a young woman’s mental decline and how this affects those around her. Sadly, Murden proves not to be up to the task, missing the target in almost every respect and managing only to produce an exercise in tortuous tedium.
Scott Murden (director) / Scott Murden (screenplay)
CAST: Lara Cox … Angela King
Graham Gall … Police Officer
Kai Harris … Freddy
Sam Lyndon … Matts
Paul J. Murphy … Kell
Mariane Power … Sky
Jerome Pride … Derek
Ben Seton … Joel