Review: ‘The Invitation’ (2022), starring Nathalie Emmanuel, Thomas Doherty, Stephanie Corneliussen, Alana Boden, Courtney Taylor, Hugh Skinner and Sean Pertwee

August 26, 2022

by Carla Hay

Nathalie Emmanuel in “The Invitation” (Photo by Marcell Piti/Screen Gems)

“The Invitation” (2022)

Directed by Jessica M. Thompson

Culture Representation: Taking place in England and briefly in New York City, the horror film “The Invitation” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with one biracial person, a few black people and one Asian person) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: An aspiring ceramic maker, who is an American orphan in her 20s, is invited to go to England to meet her long-lost relatives, but she finds out these relatives have sinister plans for her.

Culture Audience: “The Invitation” will appeal mainly to people who don’t mind watching formulaic horror movies that are frequently dull.

Thomas Doherty and Nathalie Emmanuel in “The Invitation” (Photo by Marcell Piti/Screen Gems)

If the horror flick “The Invitation” were an actual invitation, the RSVP would stand for “regurgitated, silly vampire pap.” As the movie’s “woman in peril,” Nathalie Emmanuel tries to bring personality to a film that’s relentlessly mediocre. The movie trailer for “The Invitation” gives away about 80% of the major plot developments. But even if you don’t see this movie trailer filled with spoiler information, everything in this unimaginative film is easy to predict.

Directed by Jessica M. Thompson (who co-wrote “The Invitation” screenplay with Blair Butler), “The Invitation” is a cinematic version of a cheap romance novel with a vampire twist that fails to be suspenseful. The movie’s jump scares look forced and don’t last long. All the horror elements of “The Invitation” are derivative of much better horror movies.

The protagonist of “The Invitation” is Evelyn “Evie” Jackson (played by Emmanuel), an aspiring ceramic artist in her 20s who lives in New York City. Evie, who later says she’s trying to get a master of fine arts degree, hasn’t been able to make a living as an artist. She pays her bills by working as a server at a catering company.

Evie is an independent-minded bachelorette who lives alone and currently has no special person in her love life. She has a (cliché alert) sassy best friend named Grace (played by Courtney Taylor), who is also a bachelorette, and they often commiserate with each other about their lovelorn experiences with dating. Later in the movie, Evie mentions that she’s in no rush to get married, which makes a certain turn of events in the movie more horrifying to her.

Evie’s father died when she was 14. Evie’s widowed mother died of cancer a few months ago. Evie has no siblings. And so, when Evie spends her birthday by herself, she does so by making ceramics and listening to a past voice mail message from her mother. It’s the movie’s obvious way of showing that Evie is in such grief over her mother’s death, Evie wants to spend her birthday alone.

Not long after her birthday, Evie takes an at-home DNA test, by using a kit from a genealogy company that had a recent event where Evie worked as a catering server. When the DNA test results come back, Evie finds out that she has a long-lost second cousin named Oliver Alexander III (played by Hugh Skinner), an aristocrat who lives in England. The next thing you know, Evie is having a lunch meeting in New York City with Oliver, who initiated this meeting.

Oliver explains to Evie that their great-grandmother Emmaline Alexander had an affair with a footman, who was black. In an era when interracial relationships were very taboo, Emmaline got pregnant and gave birth to a son, who was Evie’s maternal grandfather. Evie is also the child of an interracial couple. Her mother was black, and her father was white. Oliver lets Evie know that the current members of the Alexander family are not racists and that she’s welcome in the family.

Oliver invites Evie to meet her long-lost British family during a wedding that will take place at a lavish English countryside estate of another wealthy family whose surname is Deville. (“The Invitation” was actually filmed in Hungary.) Oliver quickly mutters something about a cousin named Martin who’s marrying a member of the Deville family. Oliver insists on paying for everything for this first-class trip. Evie is hesitant at first to take this generous offer, but of course you know that she changes her mind. Oliver simply won’t take no for an answer.

When Evie arrives at the estate, she’s outside and accidentally bumps into a few maids, who are carrying drinking glasses that shatter on the ground. Evie makes profuse apologies, but the estate’s haughty head butler Mr. Fields (played by Sean Pertwee) scolds the maids, even though Evie says she’s entirely to blame for the accident. Mr. Fields looks up and down at Evie (who wears a nose ring) and coldly asks her who she is and what she’s doing there.

Mr. Fields’ snobbish attitude toward Evie has racist overtones, since Evie is the only guest at the estate who isn’t white. Oliver steps in and introduces Evie to Mr. Fields as a member of the Alexander family. Mr. Fields’ attitude immediately changes to being polite and professional, but Evie feels hurt and angry over his insulting demeanor toward her when they first met.

It isn’t long before Evie meets the handsome and charming owner of the estate: Walter “Walt” Deville (played by Thomas Doherty), who makes an apology to Evie about Mr. Fields’ rudeness when Walt sees that Evie feels offended and uncomfortable. Evie is immediately attracted to Walt, and the feeling seems mutual. They mildly flirt with each other in a way that people do in movies where you know that that this flirtation is going to turn into a romance.

Mr. Fields shows Evie around the inside of this palatial estate, and he tells her that she’s welcome to go anywhere except the library, which is locked. And it’s at this point in the movie that you know Evie will eventually go in the library, where secrets are obviously being kept locked up. During this house tour, Evie meets chief housekeeper Mrs. Swift (played by Carol Ann Crawford), a friendly staffer who has been assigned to be Evie’s personal maid during this trip.

Evie feels awestruck by all the opulence and wealth on display. She also feels somewhat out-of-place, since she never grew up with this type of money and privilege. In order to cover up her insecurities, she makes sarcastic comments to Walt and to Grace (who talks with Evie on the phone for video chats) about what it must feel like to be super-rich.

Sure enough, Walt begins to court Evie. In a private conversation that Evie has with Oliver, she checks with him to make sure that the Devilles are not biologically related to the Alexanders. Oliver says with a smirk that the two families are not biologically related. And as soon as Evie gets confirmation that if she got romantically involved with Walt, it would not be incest, Evie lets Walt get closer to her. Eventually, Walt tells Evie that his parents are also deceased.

The courtship is a whirlwind affair. Walt even does things such as give Evie a designer gown to wear at a pre-wedding party at the estate. Evie thinks it’s almost like a fairytale where she is being treated like a pampered princess. But since “The Invitation” is a horror movie, this fairytale is going to turn into a nightmare.

Before that happens, Evie starts to feel more comfortable around her stuffy family members and the Alexander family’s equally stuffy friends when they hold a reception in her honor. She’s given a warm welcome by family patriarch Alfred Alexander, who leads the group in raising drinking glasses to give an enthusiastic toast to Evie.

Almost all of the family members are men. Someone in the group mentions in a foreshadowing comment that they need more women in the family. Evie might have been welcomed into this family, but she still wants to keep her identity. When Oliver introduces Evie as “Evie Alexander,” she corrects him and reminds him that her last name is Jackson.

At a pre-wedding party, Evie is introduced to two more people from nearby aristocratic families: Lucy (played by Alana Boden) is a bubbly blonde. Viktoria (played by Stephanie Corneliussen) is an icy brunette. Lucy is amiable to Evie, but Viktoria is openly hostile to Evie. Viktoria also shows signs that she’s very jealous of Evie’s blossoming romance with Walt.

There are demon creatures lurking around the Deville house at night. “The Invitation” has a lot of stereotypical jump scares involving these creatures, with very brief moments of effective tension. Evie sees one of these creatures on the top of her canopy bed. She screams and hides underneath the bed, but she doesn’t do what most people would do: Leave the house, or at least insist on sleeping in another room.

The movie’s opening scene also shows a woman in the house committing suicide by hanging herself. Later, when Evie is at the mansion, Mrs. Swift tells Evie that this woman was “the lady of the house,” who died recently. The name of this woman should come as no surprise when it’s revealed. And then, certain maids end up getting murdered.

The problem with “The Invitation” is that it could have been more intriguing, but everything in the movie is just shallow. “The Invitation” just goes through the motions of things that have already been done in many other horror flicks about ghosts, demons and vampires. The movie has issues about race and social class that are dangled in front of viewers but never fully developed. “The Invitation” didn’t need to be a “Get Out” ripoff, but it could have made some clever commentary about social prejudices or feeling like an outsider in the context of this horror story.

Instead, the movie just has Grace make unfunny, racist wisecracks about Oliver being “the whitest person I’ve ever seen,” and Grace saying that Evie better be careful about being around so many white people. Grace comments that these white people could be after Evie to harvest her organs. (It’s this movie’s weak semi-nod to “Get Out.”)

Because, yes, as already shown in the trailer for “The Invitation,” Evie has been lured into a trap by a group of vampires. The reasons why they targeted Evie are eventually revealed, but these reasons aren’t surprising since the movie trailer shows Evie in a wedding dress. As for the vampire groom, remove the last two letters of the name Deville. This movie is not subtle at all.

In her performance as the strong-willed and independent Evie, Emmanuel seems to be doing her best to make Evie a convincing character. But after Evie sees the demon in the bedroom, Evie unrealistically seems to get over it quickly. Doherty’s performance as Walt should have gotten more menacing as the story goes along. Instead, the performance becomes campier as the story devolves into a cesspool of vampire clichés. All of the movie’s other cast members give adequate or forgettable performances.

Although the production design and costume design for “The Invitation” are attractive to look at, the movie’s visual effects aren’t very impressive. “The Invitation” has scenes where a massive fire has engulfed an area—and all of the fire looks very phony. The fight scenes are almost laughable. However, “The Invitation” has a manicure scene with some effective sound editing and sound design intended to make viewers squirm.

“The Invitation” takes so long to get to any real action, by the time the showdown scenes happen, they all feel anticlimactic. Certain fight tactics that are used by the protagonist are too easy to predict. And there are some aspects of the story that are just downright dumb. For example, the very last scene in the movie is ridiculous and unnecessary. “The Invitation” is not the worst horror movie ever made. It’s just not an impressive horror movie, and it will be forgotten quicker than a hungry vampire can bite a victim.

Screen Gems released “The Invitation” in U.S. cinemas on August 26, 2022.

Review: ‘F9,’ starring Vin Diesel, John Cena, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges, Nathalie Emmanuel and Jordana Brewster

June 25, 2021

by Carla Hay

Michelle Rodriguez and Vin Diesel in “F9” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

“F9”

Directed by Justin Lin

Culture Representation: Taking place in the United States, Spain, the United Kingdom, Japan, Germany, Azerbaijan and the nation of Georgia, the action flick “F9” features a racially diverse cast of characters (black, white, Latino and Asian) representing the middle-class and wealthy in law enforcement and the criminal underground.

Culture Clash: A daredevil team tries to save the world from a group of criminals that includes an assassin who is the estranged brother of the daredevil leader. 

Culture Audience: Besides appealing to fans of the “Fast and the Furious” movie franchise, “F9” (the ninth movie in the series) will appeal primarily to people who want to a predictable action flick with high-budget stunts and low-quality screenwriting.

Pictured in front, from left to right: Vin Diesel, Thue Ersted Rasmussen and John Cena in “F9” (Photo courtesy of Unviersal Pictures)

At this point, movies in the “Fast” movie franchise (which began with 2001’s “The Fast and the Furious”) are no longer rooted in reality and have become over-the-top spectacles for people who want to shut their brains off for a couple of hours while they watch. And that’s okay, if there’s a coherent plot and the stunts are truly creative. But “F9” (the ninth film in the series) is an example of a sequel that’s too bloated, too self-satisfied and too lazy. This movie needed less stunt casting and more impressive stunts that don’t insult people’s intelligence.

Directed by Justin Lin (who co-wrote the abysmal “F9” screenplay with Daniel Casey), “F9” is best described as a live-action movie written and directed like a sloppy cartoon for people with no attention span and no expectations to see an intriguing thriller beyond predictable chase scenes, shootouts and explosions. It’s another “we have to save the world from a power-hungry villain” story, but there’s no real creativity or suspense in this overstuffed, 145-minute movie that tries to distract viewers from the weak plot by zipping around the world to different locations. Too bad with all that globetrotting in search of the villain, the “F9” team couldn’t find anything resembling a suspenseful story, because almost every twist and turn can be easily predicted.

The main characters in the “Fast” saga have become so egotistical and conceited that there are multiple times in the movie where they wonder out loud to each other if their death-defying luck might be because they aren’t mere mortals but might in fact have superpowers. “F9” is not a superhero movie, although it would be a better explanation for some of the ridiculous outcomes of battles where real human beings would die, but these “heroes” just get injuries that are never fatal and they recover in ways that are too quick to believe.

And this wouldn’t be a “Fast” movie without constant use of the word “family.” It can become a drinking game to take a drink every time the word “family” is said in a “Fast” movie. This time around, “F9” is especially enamored with adding more people to the “family,” with some unnecessary stunt casting that looks very out of place. If “F9” is the first movie that people see in the “Fast” series, they might be a little confused, because the movie assumes that viewers will already know a lot of the characters’ backstories. It’s best to watch 2017’s “The Fate of the Furious,” because most of the main characters in that movie are in “F9.”

Here’s a handy summary of who’s in the movie and how their screen time is used in “F9.”

The Heroes

  • Dominic “Dom” Toretto (played by Vin Diesel) is the leader of the daredevil crew that started out as outlaw drag racers and now have vague duties a security/spy team hired to help out government officials and elite business people who are targets of villains who want to take over the world. Vinnie Bennett portrays a young Dom in the movie’s several flashbacks to when Dom was in his late teens.
  • Letty Ortiz (played by Michelle Rodriguez) is Dom’s on-again, off-again girlfriend. In “F9,” Dom and Letty are happily living together with Dom’s son Brian, who’s about 4 or 5 years old in this movie. Brian’s mother Elena Neves (played by Elsa Pataky) was a Diplomatic Security Service agent who died in “The Fate of the Furious.”
  • Mia Toretto (played by Jordana Brewster) is Dom’s loyal younger sister who goes along with whatever Dom wants. Mia is the love partner of Dom’s best friend Brian O’Conner (played by Paul Walker), who is the father of their son Jack. Walker died in real life in 2013, but Brian is supposed to be happily retired.
  • Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson) is a nervous and talkative member of Dom’s team. The running joke with Roman is that he’s always anxious about getting into dangerous situtations. Expect Roman to scream at least twice in every “Fast” movie.
  • Tej Parker (played by Chris “Ludacris” Bridges) is Roman’s level-headed best friend who has skills as a mechanic and a computer technician.
  • Ramsey (played by Nathalie Emmanuel) is a British computer hacker who has essentially taken over from Tej as being the “computer whiz” on Dom’s team.
  • Han Lue (played by Sung Kang) supposedly died in 2013’s “Fast & Furious 6,” but he makes a notable but brief return in “F9.” Han’s return is not spoiler information, since it’s part of this movie’s publicity, and his re-appearance has this explanation: He faked his own death.

The Villains

  • Otto (played by Thue Ersted Rasmussen), a wealthy German mogul with vast political connections who wants to take over the world.
  • Jakob Toretto (played by John Cena), Dom’s estranged younger brother, who works with Otto as Otto’s top assassin. Finn Cole portrays a young Jakob in his late teens in the movie’s flashback scenes.
  • Cypher (played by Charlize Theron), a cyberterrorist who was the chief villain in “The Fate of the Furious.” In “F9,” she spends most of her screen time literally locked up in a glass cage.

The Rest

  • Sean (played by Lucas Black), Twinkie (played by Shad Moss, also known as Bow Wow) and Santos (played by Don Omar) are three mechanics who are in the movie mostly for comic relief. They’re like the Three Stooges of the “Fast” movie franchise.
  • Mr. Nobody (played by Kurt Russell) is a powerful undercover operative who works with Dom’s team. A plane hijacking involving Mr. Nobody sets off the rescue mission in the movie.
  • Elle (played by Anna Sawai) is an associate of Han’s who plays a key role in this mission.
  • Stasiak (played by Shea Whigham) is an FBI agent who works with Mr. Nobody.
  • Buddy (played by Michael Rooker) is a mechanic who raised Jakob after Jakob’s father died.
  • Queenie Shaw (played by Helen Mirren) is the mother of Deckard Shaw (played by Jason Statham), a longtime nemesis of Dom’s team.

Through a distress video found in Mr. Nobody’s hijacked plane, Dom and his team find out that Jakob was one of the chief people behind the hijacking. Otto and Jakob are after a device called Aries, which has the ability to hack into defense and banking systems around the world. It’s the type of device that any self-respecting villain with world domination goals would want to have.

Aries has been split into two. Jakob and Otto have one half of Aries, and they’re in a race against time with Dom and his team to get the other half of Aries. Cypher is being held captive by Otto and Jakob, who try to get her advice on how to find Aries and thwart Dom and his team. The stakes are more personal for Dom and Jakob because of their family feud.

The origin of this brotherly vendetta is shown through flashbacks. It has to do with the death of Dom and Jakob’s father Jack Toretto (played by JD Pardo), who died during a car race witnessed by Dom and Jakob. Siena Agudong plays a young Mia in these flashbacks.

Various parts of Dom’s team travel to different parts of the world to find the missing half of Aries. Cardi B has a very quick cameo as Leysa, someone from Dom’s past. People might laugh when they see what type of role she has in this movie. (No, she isn’t a stripper.) Along the way, Roman and Tej go into space using a rocket car that was built by Sean, Twinkie and Santos. Now, try say all of that out loud with a straight face.

The Pontiac Fiero that goes into space (by having a cheap-looking rocket launcher attached) is the most ridiculous part of this movie’s dumb plot. But to the movie’s credit, “F9” even knows how stupid this space rocket car gimmick is, because Roman and Tej keep saying while they’re in outer space that they have no idea what they’re doing there. In real life, Roman and Tej would also be dead in space, based on the flimsy-looking spacesuits they wear in this movie. But when a movie is self-aware of how idiotic it is, it doesn’t make the idiocy any better.

There are many examples of how “F9” is wasteful, including how it squanders the great talent of Oscar-winning actresses Mirren and Theron. Mirren’s Queenie character (who is a jewel thief) literally does nothing in the movie but drive Dom somewhere after she’s committed a jewelry heist. The movie makes a point of showing how Queenie is wearing animal print boots underneath her elegant gown and high-priced jewelry. Mirren might as well have been wearing a T-shirt that says, “I’m Just Here for the Paycheck.”

Theron spends most of her “F9” screen time as a prisoner in a glass cage, which is the type of cage that people have for large animals. And speaking of sexist depictions of women, the movie has a mansion party scene where only modelesque, scantily clad women wearing white are gathered on the front lawn, as if they’re only there to be sex objects on display. “F9” villain Otto is the host of the party, so “F9” filmmakers can shift the blame to the evil character being responsible for objectifying women. But it just comes across as director Lin deciding to objectify women in this scene just because he could.

Of course, Letty, Mia and Ramsey all embody what it means to be good and strong women. But make no mistake: The men are in charge in these movies. No matter how much Letty, Mia and Ramsey are given to do, all three women are ultimately under Dom’s leadership. So much for female empowerment.

“F9” is one of the worst of the “Fast” franchise because even the chief villain Otto is forgettable and badly written. He comes across as a spoiled wimp, with the wardrobe of a dorky playboy, including wearing tacky leisure suits with loafers and no socks. There’s absolutely nothing scary about Otto. However, look for Statham’s Shaw character to make a mid-credits cameo in “F9.” Statham’s appearance is a reminder of how much better this movie series is when it has a truly menacing villain.

As for Jakob, he’s all brawn and very little brain, just like many characters Cena tends to play in action movies. The flashback scenes take up a lot of time and some could easily have been cut out of the film and still made their point. Diesel continues to display wooden acting. The rest of the cast members are serviceable in their roles. The movie’s flashbacks serve as the emotional core of the over-used theme in “Fast” movies: family.

And the return of Han doesn’t happen until the last third of the movie. The not-very-believable explanation for Han’s “return from the dead” is so cringeworthy, even actor Kang seems a little embarrassed to utter the lines. You’d have to believe that Han (who supposedly died in a car explosion) had a similar-looking replacement corpse nearby before the car exploded, and that he was not only able to jump out of the car in time but also put another corpse in the car instead. You’d also have to believe that a medical examiner wouldn’t be able to detect through DNA or dental records that Han’s body wasn’t the body that was found in the car.

With all that being said, die-hard fans won’t care how bad “F9” is because they just want to see fight scenes, car chases and explosions. And in that respect, “F9” does deliver, but not as well as previous “Fast” films that Lim directed. He also directed 2006’s “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift,” 2009’s “Fast & Furious,” 2011’s “Fast Five” and “Fast & Furious 6.” Those other four movies have something that “F9” severely lacks: a story with some genuine and unique surprises, not coasting entirely on past glories.

Universal Pictures released “F9” in U.S. cinemas on June 25, 2021. The movie was released in various other countries, beginning on June 19, 2021.

Review: ‘Holly Slept Over,’ starring Nathalie Emmanuel, Josh Lawson, Britt Lower, Erinn Hayes and Ron Livingston

March 4, 2020

by Carla Hay

Nathalie Emmanuel in "Holly Slept Over" (Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
Nathalie Emmanuel in “Holly Slept Over” (Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

“Holly Slept Over”

Directed by Joshua Friedlander

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the sex comedy “Holly Slept Over” focuses on two middle-class white American married couples and the biracial British free-spirited woman who had an affair with one of the women when they were in college.

Culture Clash: The men are bored with their sex lives and think of ways to spice things up in their marriages, while complaining that their wives are too uptight to agree to their ideas.

Culture Audience: “Holly Slept Over” will appeal mostly to people who want to see a formulaic comedy about a threesome.

Britt Lower and Josh Lawson in “Holly Slept Over” (Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

The concept of two women and a man in a sexual threesome has been done so many times in movies and TV shows that the comedy film “Holly Slept Over” brings nothing new or clever to this idea. In fact, for most of this approximately 90-minute movie (written and directed by Joshua Friedlander), a hoped-for threesome is pretty much what the men in the movie obsess over, as soon as one of guys finds out that his wife had a sexual relationship in college with a woman who wants to see the wife again. It’s a flimsy basis for a story when the characters are as two-dimensional as the ones in this movie.

“Holly Slept Over” is the very definition of a “sex comedy,” because sex is the primary focus of all the main characters. The film’s opening scene is of friends/neighbors Noel (played by Josh Lawson) and Pete (played by Ron Livingston) barbecuing in a backyard and complaining about their sex lives. Pete warns Noel, who’s been trying to start a family with his wife, that having kids will kill a couple’s sex life. Pete tells Noel that he knows this from experience, because he and his own wife rarely have sex, ever since they’ve been raising children.

Pete confesses to Noel that because he’s had no satisfying release for his sex drive, he’s resorted to ejaculating on his wife’s breasts when she’s asleep. Pete also says that he’s been able to clean off the “evidence” without her knowing what happened. “Maybe I’m a monster,” Pete says unapologetically. “I defiled my wife. It’s the best feeling I’ve had in months.” Meanwhile, Noel’s biggest complaint about sex with his own wife is that it’s too boring.

As this conversation is taking place, Noel’s wife Audra (played by Britt Lower) and Pete’s wife Marnie (played by Erinn Hayes) are in the kitchen having their own candid talk. Audra hasn’t been able to get pregnant with Noel, and she reveals that she’s worried that she might not be able to conceive a child, ever since she miscarried an unplanned pregnancy when she was a junior in high school.

Audra also tells Marnie that she’s gotten an unexpected message from her former college roommate Holly, who contacted her out of the blue after they stopped speaking to each other 12 years ago. Holly wants to see Audra again, but Audra tells Marnie that she’s not interested in seeing Holly again. Audra says that when she and Holly were in college, their friendship ended because Holly was “too wild and free-spirited for me,” because Holly drank too much, did too many drugs, and slept around.

It isn’t long before the truth comes out about the real reason why Audra is uncomfortable with reconnecting with Holly. Audra tells Noel that she and Holly used to be lovers, but Audra describes it as an experimental fling. She insists that she hasn’t been with another woman since Holly, and she asks Noel to keep this a secret between the two of them. Noel is surprised by Audra’s revelation, because he always thought that Audra was sexually conservative.

“Holly Slept Over” uses a predictable trope that’s often seen in stories about two couples. One couple is “nice” (usually boring) and the other couple is “no filter” (usually quarrelling). It’s obvious within the first 10 minutes of the film which type of couple is which. Noel and Audra are both lawyers: He’s a tax attorney, and she’s a criminal-defense attorney. It’s not mentioned what Pete and Marnie do for a living, probably because viewers won’t care.

Another thing that’s obvious in this movie is that both couples have no privacy boundaries, because they blab sexual secrets about their spouses to someone who’s part of the other couple. It should come as no surprise then that Noel tells Pete about Audra’s affair with Holly. Pete then tells Marnie, who then tells Audra that she knows about Holly too.

It’s very easy to see that this movie was written and directed by a man, because the conversations between the two women don’t ring true and sound like they’re from a perspective of someone projecting male fantasies. For example, when Marnie and Audra talk about the affair with Holly that is no longer a secret, Marnie tells Audra that she’s impressed that Audra knows how to “dig clam.”

It’s the kind of talk that sounds like what you’d hear at a frat party instead of an authentic conversation between two adult female friends. That’s not to say that women don’t describe sex in raunchy terms. But when women talk about sex, they aren’t very likely to compare their private parts to sea creatures.

Despite the fact that three of the five main characters are women, a great deal of the movie is focused on what the husbands want and need, and the women’s wants and needs are secondary to the men’s. We know this because most of the complaining in the movie comes from the men feeling deprived by their “uptight” wives who aren’t giving them the kind of sex that they want. It didn’t occur to the filmmakers to show much of the women’s perspectives, since the women’s purpose in the movie is to react to what the men want.

For example, the filmmakers seem to want viewers to assume it’s all Marnie’s fault for losing interest in having sex with her husband Pete. However, it’s obvious within the first 10 minutes of the movie that he’s a selfish jerk in other aspects of life—he’s resentful of parental responsibilities because they take time away from when he wants to have sex—which probably has a lot to do with why his wife is turned off by him. Anyone who somewhat brags about sexually violating his wife’s body without her knowledge when she’s asleep (in other words, she didn’t consent) has some seriously unhealthy sexual issues. It tells you what you need to know about what a lousy husband he is.

Because Pete says he has such an unfulfilling sex life, he tries to live vicariously through Noel, whose marriage is happy in comparison to Pete’s marriage. Pete is the one who plants the idea in Noel’s head that Noel should have a threesome with Holly and Audra. Pete essentially berates Noel into thinking that he’ll be a boring wimp if he doesn’t try to have this threesome. After checking out Holly on Instagram and seeing how attractive she is, Noel confesses that the threesome is all he can think about, but he’s doubtful that Audra will agree to it. The two men then start scheming up ways to try to convince Audra to have a threesome with Holly and Noel.

By the time that Holly shows up about 30 minutes into the movie, it’s very easy to see where this story is going to go. Instead of staying at a hotel, Holly has sort of invited herself over to Noel and Audra’s place when she said she wanted to visit. And they didn’t say no. Never mind that Audra has been “estranged” from Holly for years and there’s no guarantee that their reunion will go well. Audra and Noel have let Holly stay over at their place anyway.

And when Holly arrives at their house, with her suitcase in hand, it’s around 8 a.m.—hours before Audra and Noel were expecting her. (How rude.) Holly tells a surprised Noel when he answers the door that she was so eager to get there, that she drove all night. Then, Holly asks to take a shower and a nap at their place, since she’s already there. Audra, who’s nervously taking a bath when Holly arrives, is a little put off by Holly showing up so early. But Audra and Noel clearly want Holly to be in their home, which sets the tone for the rest of her time there.

Holly’s “nap” turns into her sleeping for 11 hours. (An obvious sign that she’s hasn’t given up her partying ways.) Based on Audra’s annoyed reaction at not being able to hang out with Holly, because Holly’s been in a deep sleep, there’s more to Audra’s feelings for Holly than she’s willing to immediately reveal. When Holly wakes up, she and Audra make somewhat awkward apologies to each other for how their college relationship ended.

Audra and Holly ask each other questions about how their lives have been since college. To no one’s surprise, Holly is still single, sexually fluid, and she’s started her own marijuana edibles business called Holly’s Good & Baked. And guess what? She’s brought a gift basket of samples for all three of them to share.

At some point, Noel blurts out that he knows about Audra and Holly’s past sexual relationship. Audra seems to be horrified and embarrassed that Noel has even mentioned it. Holly then says that she’s done with having flings and only wants to have sex in “meaningful relationships.” The disappointed look on Noel’s face is all that manipulative Holly needs to start turning on the charm and flattery, because she now knows that she and Noel both have the same ulterior motive. Any adult can see what’s going to happen next in the movie.

To its credit, “Holly Slept Over” does not clutter the story with a lot of unnecessary characters. (The cast and film set are so small that this story could easily be a play.) And the movie telegraphs its intentions from nearly the beginning, so at least it’s up front that the potential threesome is the hook for this film. The problem is that the sparseness of the movie is to the detriment of character development.

The movie gives no indication of what any of these characters’ personal interests are besides sex. Pete complains about how being a parent has ruined his sex life, but the movie doesn’t show how he and Marnie are as parents. About 80% of what Noel and Audra talk about are topics related to their own sex life and how Holly is affecting them sexually. Even the marijuana edibles in the movie are only in the story to loosen up inhibitions for what is obviously going to happen.

The actors do the best that they can with the mediocre script that they’ve been given. As nerdy and insecure Noel, Lawson is the only actor in the cast who brings a playful sense of humor to the awkwardness and jealousy that can arise from a couple bringing a third person into their sex life. Some of his facial expressions are sure to make some viewers laugh at loud.

Livingston’s Pete character is the token crude blowhard that seems to be a required character in every sex comedy. Hayes plays Marnie as someone who can be sassy or shrewish, depending on her mood. (And it’s certainly not easy to be married to someone like Pete.)

Emmanuel portrays Holly as a lot more likable than her actions. Holly tends to do a lot selfish and irresponsible things. She’s also good at quickly figuring out what people want and using that to her advantage.

However, Holly is still a stereotypical “unicorn” (swingers’ terminology for a woman who’s open to dating couples) in movies like this—she’s pretty, available, and mostly invited into the couple’s sex life to fulfill their fantasies, but not get in the way of the couple’s relationship. She’s not there for any deeper meaning. And quite frankly, she’s a lot more disposable than she thinks she is—which is kind of like how someone could describe this movie.

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment released “Holly Slept Over” on digital and Redbox on March 3, 2020.

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