Movie Review: The Invitation

The Invitation is a conventional thriller that repackages the dangers of delusional thinking underneath New Age cures, but still manages to be engrossing thanks to nuanced film making and solid performances.

Will is invited to a dinner party hosted by his ex-wife Eden and new husband David. But as the night wears on, it becomes clear that the tension between the divorcees are not just fueled by a tragic past.

Well, there is a reason why you can’t be friends with your ex.

The Invitation is a powder keg with a slow burning fuse. The simple set-up gradually unfolds to reveal a divorced couples’ tragic past, while also building up a hidden agenda in the present.

The movie accomplishes this with a clever ruse – Will starts out as the voice of reason until he becomes an unreliable protagonist. There is something off about Eden’s magical transformation but she seems happy enough. Will chooses to retreat within himself to avoid the tension, wandering around the house and inevitably opening up old wounds as nostalgia rises from familiar places. However, odd behavior from the hosts feed Will’s suspicions. When the plot finally reveals what happened in their two year absence it solidifies into paranoia. “It’s harmless!” his friend quips. They’re in LA after all, where people have the money to waste on New Age cures. The hosts keeps the expensive wine flowing and preaching into bare minimum. It’s all just a casual dinner party with an adult twist, no harm no foul.

The invitation executes this ambiguity with nuanced film making. Plot revelations drop in short bursts, placated by diversions in between. Cinematography gives the audience a clear sense of time during flashbacks, where the golden hues of the present are scrubbed off to preview the past. Camera work gives confined framing compositions that give a sense of claustrophobic dread that punctuates the ending. Sound design and score help sustain the creepy atmosphere. All of these elements also work together to take the audience inside Will’s head space, and they too deal with a haunted past and a potentially more haunting present.

Tom Hardy lookalike Logan Marshal-Green is convincing as the well-meaning but emotionally unstable Will. Tammy Blanchard and Michiel Huisman gave characters that are what you would exactly expect from people who clearly drank somebody else’s kool-aid. The rest of the cast are good enough with the little material they’re given.

As a result, you have movie that expertly dials up the tension and winds it down to keep you engaged. The Invitation already tells you how it will end, but throws in different plot elements to make you question it.

That being said, the movie is more of a journey-than-a-destination type of film. It has a typical narrative with threadbare characters. It’s questionable how most of them don’t even give a side eye to the whole shady affair. The final twist isn’t surprising. Any moviegoer who recognizes John Caroll Lynch will know how the movie will end once he popped up.

However, the craftsmanship in display from Karyn Kusama cannot be denied. Her third indie movie takes a while to reach its satisfying pay-off, but its a cathartic conclusion nonetheless. Anyone looking for a good slow-burner will enjoy The Invitation as a thrilling ride, even if its story treads on familiar ground.

My Rating: 7.5/10

One Comment Add yours

  1. Excellent, excellent analysis and critique, Arline. I saw it kinna the same way actually…

    The General Idea

    What begins as an emotional exploration of coming to terms with unbearable loss evolves into something even more decidedly dark in the psychological thriller “The Invitation”.

    Logan Marshall-Green (“Prometheus”, “As I Lay Dying”) is Will, who along with his girlfriend accepts a request to attend a dinner party among old friends hosted by his ex-wife and her new husband at the home the former spouses once used to share. The couple’s devastatingly tragic past is gradually divulged, soon after which all hell breaks loose in and around the ostentatious house and grounds.

    The Good

    Marshall-Green is very good in a slow burn role as he grows ever more convinced that “It’s not safe here.” Emayatzy Corinealdi also impresses as Kira, his beyond-good-sport partner, though she doesn’t really have much to contribute until the frenetic final frames of “The Invitation”. This would follow though as she doesn’t know any of the party goers and spends most of the evening gathering a feel for the lay of the land.

    While the progression to all-out chaos makes sense in context, it may have been overplayed in retrospect. I appreciate the deliberate pace of this story, especially those times when Will takes personal and essential time outs apart from the group to process the inherent emotion and building uneasiness of the eerie evening. For my money, and I’ll stop short of revealing a key plot element here, the touching scene where Will lies down on the bed toward the frenzied conclusion of the “The Invitation” was far and away the most effecting moment in the movie. I was helplessly moved to tears.

    The Bad

    THE-INVITATION_Backyard-1Not a lot to complain about for me here. While it is true that Will and Kira’s fellow invitees are all largely forgettable, the exceptions are the creepy John Carroll Lynch (TV’s “The Drew Carey Show” and “Body of Proof”) and the kooky Lindsay Burdge. Both play strangers to all but the hosts who most mysteriously introduce themselves into the festivities much to the puzzlement of this erstwhile clique of cronies.

    Overall

    Director Karyn Kusama (“Aeon Flux”, “Girlfight”) deftly guides this deeply unsettling narrative toward a shift in tone that is both abrupt and startling. And her film’s jaw-dropping ending delivers absolutely one of the most viciously wicked wallops you’re likely to witness in any movie all year.

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