Lifetime Review: 'A Party Gone Wrong'
A viscerally emotive cast raises this Lifetime kidnapping thriller above the rest.
Only a week away from starting college, April Bishop (Shellie Sterling) can't wait to leave home and start fresh. After finding out her boyfriend Sam (Conlan Kisilewicz) had cheated on her with her former best friend Natalie (Nayirah Teshali), April wants to avoid both of them in her final days of summer. But at the insistence of her friends Brittany and Taylor (Kate Edmonds and Lauren Faulkner) and her mother Tracey (Nicole Danielle Watts), April reluctantly joins her besties for a Friday night party.
Little did any of them know that April's night out would turn into a horrifying nightmare. Drunkenly stumbling into a rideshare driven by a man intent on harvesting her organs for the black market, April ends up trapped in an industrial freezer along with Natalie. As the ex best friends struggle to survive and escape their cold prison, Tracey works with April's friends to locate her daughter. But with time running out before the girls' abductor puts his plan into motion, can Tracey find her daughter before she and Natalie meet a gruesome fate?
Wow. Lifetime has plenty of kidnapping thrillers under its belt. The Deadly Excursion sequel and Saving My Daughter come to mind as recent examples. The latter was memorable for me due to its surprisingly poignant story and the talented stars that bring it to life. I bring that up because A Party Gone Wrong (initially under the more apt title Trapped Daughter) does the same thing to greater results. Not only is the film's story considerably darker than Saving My Daughter, but just about all the actors involved here are magnificent when it comes to the film's more intense scenes. As things become grimmer for April, Natalie, and everyone involved with/caught up in their abduction, the cast rises to the occasion and dives headfirst into their characters' emotional states.
Shellie Sterling and Nayirah Teshali are the definite highlights, if only from how perfectly they depict April and Natalie's physical predicament. In addition to being locked up by a malicious kidnapper, the girls are also trapped in an active freezer and getting colder by the minute. Sterling and Teshali excel at depicting how two women would look and act after so many hours in subzero temperatures: shaking uncontrollably and having a difficult time speaking. This is one Lifetime movie to watch with captions on, as there are long periods when it's near impossible to comprehend what April and Natalie are saying. There's also a pair of characters in A Party Gone Wrong who become easily agitated and are thus harder to understand when they're angry or overstressed. Outside of their physical acting, Sterling and Teshali are just as strong. Sterling makes April a likable and ambitious teen and later sells both April's terror and her headstrong will to survive with fervor. Meanwhile, Teshali is heartbreaking as Natalie fruitlessly tries to reconcile her friendship with April--only succeeding once they're both put in a grave situation that (understandably) sends Natalie into hysterics. Together, they make for fantastic leads and the chemistry they share is palpable.
(Shoutout to the makeup department as well for their superb job showing the progression of April and Natalie's confinement. Especially in the detail of showing their skin beginning to turn bluish from the cold)
WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW
The two supporting actors that come the closest to topping Sterling and Teshali's exquisite performances are Emerson Niemchick and Kate Edmonds as kidnapper/organ trafficker Mike and his unwilling accomplice sister Brittany. While both are new to Lifetime, both make quite the splash in their roles. While she starts the movie seeming like the average party-loving teenage girl, Brittany lets the mask fall as the strain of her brother's actions becomes too much for her. Edmonds throws herself into Brittany's mix of guilt, fear, and desperation to be free of Mike. Opposite Edmonds, Niemchick tears into his utterly loathsome character like a lion. From Mike's moments of violent rage to his bouts of Crazy Eyes Syndrome, Niemchick totally sells his character as a cold-blooded criminal willing to hurt anyone--even his own sister--to get what he wants. He and Edmonds even sell the weird out-of-nowhere incest angle to Mike and Brittany's relationship despite it feeling like something added at the last minute just to make Mike a little more evil.
It all adds up to make for an excellent climactic battle sequence. After all he'd put Brittany and so many others through, seeing all the women Mike abused and otherwise victimized (directly or otherwise) fight back and take him down is immensely satisfying. Even more satisfying is how he's ultimately beaten to death by his long-suffering sister, with his final minutes seeing him pathetically begging Brittany for mercy. Edmonds sells Brittany's cathartic moment of vengeance with zeal. Too bad we don't get to see Mike meet his bloody end via tire iron bludgeoning. I would've even settled for some TV-14 rated just-offscreen head bashes.
The rest of the supporting cast brings a lot of energy to their own performances. Even Lauren Faulkner, who plays secondary friend Taylor, gets the opportunity to show some range as Taylor becomes Tracey Bishop's unlikely partner in searching for April. Nicole Danielle Watts gets more focus as April's super supportive mother, giving Tracey's Mama Bear fierceness and maternal fear a sharp and impactful edge. While I went into the movie thinking she'd be a side antagonist, Carol Ann DeMarco's Dr. Sylvia surprised me with how ruthlessly take-charge she gets as things become complicated for her and her cohorts. It says something that even Mike is intimidated by her. And apart from some scenes of overacting (especially during the climax where Watts's expressions also become a little exaggerated), DeMarco follows Niemchick's lead by digging her teeth into her psychotically monstrous character.
Left with the short end of the stick are Stephen Nicosia as co-kidnapper Johnny and Conlan Kisilewciz as April's ex-boyfriend Sam. As the least plot-relevant and least intelligent member of the organ trafficking triumvirate, Nicosia is given little to do other than be the dense muscle of the group. Kisilewicz gives a decent enough performance as the generically vain and douchey Sam. SPOILER ALERT In the end, it seems Sam's only pertinent role after April and Natalie's kidnapping is to be someone for Mike to brutally murder, thus revealing just how dangerous he and his crew are. Spoilers Over Apart from Johnny and Sam, though, A Party Gone Wrong boasts an array of riveting characters to complement the enthralling story. Also complementing that story is Ryan Brown's intense cinematography; lots of tight shots and close-ups to match up with the film's atmosphere and the claustrophobic situation its main protagonists get into.
Being an overall phenomenal thriller that ends with a worthy message about organ/human trafficking and its correlation to a racially biased media and justice system, A Party Gone Wrong is easy to recommend. Between the gripping story and raw performances, the movie will quickly lock you in and keep you on the edge of your seat until the bitter end. I'd even suggest that viewers who don't typically like Lifetime movies give A Party Gone Wrong a try. It just might surprise you.
Score: 9.5 out of 10 engineering badges.