Family Dinner Tribeca Review 2022 Film

Movie Bunker Score:

Family Dinner: A Thought-Provoking Thriller with Subtle Unsettling Power

The Intriguing World of Film Festivals

As a film critic, I never imagined that my journey would lead me to covering prestigious events like the South by Southwest (SXSW) and Tribeca Film Festival. Yet, here I am, diving into the world of cinema, even if it is solely through virtual experiences due to the current circumstances. One of the first films that caught my attention at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival was “Family Dinner.” Directed by Peter Hengl, this thriller showcases his talent for crafting deeply uncomfortable scenes and characters. However, while the film succeeds in evoking a sense of dread, it lacks a cohesive purpose that binds it together thematically.

An Unsettling Tale Unfolds

The story revolves around Simi, a 15-year-old girl portrayed by Nina Katlein, who visits her Aunt Claudia (Pia Hierzegger), a renowned nutritionist and author, in the days leading up to Easter. Simi, struggling with weight issues, hopes that spending time with her aunt will help her adopt a healthier lifestyle. However, she soon realizes that Claudia’s approach is cold and demanding, bordering on abuse. Simi’s cousin Filipp (Alexander Sladek) openly expresses hostility towards her, while her interactions with the rest of the family leave her with a persistent sense of unease. As Simi delves deeper into the dysfunctional dynamics of this household, she discovers dark secrets that could lead to a disturbing climax.

The Power of Subtlety

What sets “Family Dinner” apart is its ability to instill a high level of tension and discomfort without relying on explicit or disturbing content. Throughout the majority of the film, there are only fleeting glimpses of anything overtly scary, leaving viewers uncertain about the true nature of the unfolding events. Yet, I found myself deeply concerned for Simi’s well-being, a testament to Hengl’s ability to establish and maintain the film’s tense atmosphere. From the moment Simi arrives at her aunt’s house, it becomes evident that she is not entirely welcome. The disdain Filipp displays is overt, but even Claudia’s seemingly nurturing nature exudes distance and lacks genuine compassion. The coldness, both in attitude and environment, contributes to a constant grimace on the viewer’s face.

The house itself becomes a symbol of entrapment, even though Simi technically has the freedom to leave at any time. There is an underlying feeling that she is being held against her will, with potentially dire consequences if she tries to escape. Although the film eventually hints at these consequences, it deliberately keeps the audience guessing, intensifying the unease. As the dysfunction within the family unravels, questions surrounding individual motivations arise, blurring the lines between trust and suspicion. Every decision Simi faces becomes a conundrum, leaving viewers unsure of who to believe or rely on for her safety.

The Impact of Visual Composition

In its portrayal of uneasiness, “Family Dinner” excels in visually framing tension. One particularly effective scene comes when Simi engages in an activity that Claudia would disapprove of. The camera pans towards a door, creating anticipation that Claudia might appear, but the focus is actually on a dresser that Simi opens. Nothing sinister occurs during this sequence, yet the framing alone is enough to induce a tense experience.

The Film’s Shortcomings

However, “Family Dinner” falls short in providing intellectual substance and character motivation. The film’s biggest reveal towards the end certainly packs a punch, leaving a knot in one’s stomach. Subsequently, the escalating events maintain the film’s quiet tension admirably. Despite this, the motivations behind certain character actions remain muddled, offering only surface-level insights. The film attempts to weave in commentary on Easter traditions and contemporary issues like weight loss and domestic abuse, but these ideas lack proper development. The overarching narrative is simplified, leaving viewers wanting more from the thought-provoking concepts the film aims to explore.

Additionally, Nina Katlein’s performance as Simi is surprisingly underwhelming. Throughout many scenes, she displays minimal emotion, maintaining a reserved demeanor. While this initially aligns with the awkwardness of the interactions, it becomes increasingly distracting as the intensity rises. Although the intent behind Simi’s reserved nature may be intentional, it fails to contribute to the overall story, leaving an emotionally disengaged impression. However, the other actors, particularly Pia Hierzegger, deliver compelling performances that perfectly capture the compassionate yet questionable nature of their characters.

A Film that Leaves a Lasting Impression

Despite its flaws, “Family Dinner” is a film that manages to leave an unsettling impact. Its strength lies in its ability to subtly unnerve and build empathy for the main character. It immerses viewers in an atmosphere that demands decompression after the credits roll. The details and the film’s skilled craftsmanship create an experience that lingers. However, the film could have delved deeper into its larger ideas and offered a more nuanced approach to its themes.


“Family Dinner” successfully captivates its audience through a combination of tension, discomfort, and thought-provoking moments. Peter Hengl demonstrates his directorial prowess by masterfully employing subtlety rather than explicit content to evoke unease. As viewers navigate the intricate web of deceit within this dysfunctional family, they are left questioning their own inclinations and judgments. While the film’s storytelling falls short in fully exploring its concepts and character motivations, it remains an intriguing addition to the thriller genre.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What makes “Family Dinner” unique among other thrillers?

“Family Dinner” stands out due to its ability to generate suspense and discomfort without relying on explicit or disturbing content. By employing subtlety and utilizing minimal scares, the film creates an atmosphere of unease that lingers long after the credits roll.

2. How does “Family Dinner” explore the dynamics within the family?

The film delves deep into the dysfunctional dynamics of the family, portraying the strained relationships and unsettling dynamics between the characters. It raises questions about trust, motivation, and the consequences of emotional abuse. Each character’s actions contribute to an atmosphere where no one feels entirely safe or trustworthy.

3. What are the strengths of the film’s visual storytelling?

“Family Dinner” effectively uses visual composition to heighten tension and create anticipation. Through strategic framing and camera movements, the audience is placed on edge, unsure of what may unfold in each scene. The film demonstrates a mastery of visual storytelling that enhances the overall viewing experience.

4. How does the film handle its themes related to Easter traditions and modern-day issues?

“Family Dinner” attempts to weave in commentary on traditional Easter practices and their relevance to contemporary concerns such as weight loss and domestic abuse. However, the execution of these themes falls short, lacking proper setup and exploration. The film hints at the connections but fails to fully develop them.

5. What impact does the reserved performance of Nina Katlein have on the film?

Nina Katlein’s reserved portrayal of Simi, the main character, creates a disengaged impression that hinders the overall emotional impact. While the intention behind this choice may be to heighten the sense of unease, it ultimately leaves the audience disconnected from the character’s experiences. Despite this, other performances in the film, particularly Pia Hierzegger’s, stand out for their compelling portrayals.