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

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