Beware, take care
The Invitation (directed by Karyn Kusama and written by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi) has a simple enough premise; Will (Logan Marshall-Green) and Kara (Emayatzy Corinealdi) are invited to a dinner party put on by Will’s ex-wife Eden (Tammy Blanchard) and her new husband David (Michael Huisman). Besides the obvious problems that could occur from hanging out with exes, there is nothing in the first act of the movie that seems out of place to anyone but Will.
The other people gathered at the house are old friends of Eden and Will’s. As the film progresses the audience finds out that no one has seen either of them in a couple of years due to what seems like a mental collapse from Eden, and the dissolution of the couple’s marriage soon thereafter. Eden met new husband David while on a retreat in Mexico while both were seeking solace.
The first notion that things might not be right with Eden and David comes in the form of their new friend Sadie (Lindsay Burdge). Sadie, whom the couple met while in Mexico, came back to with them and now lives in their house. Sadie seems a bit off to Will, but not as strange as Pruitt (John Carroll Lynch), another new friend that shows up at the couples home.
After Pruitt arrives, Eden and David start a presentation about a new religious movement called The Invitation. More Heaven’s Gate than Scientology, The Invitation doesn’t really go over quite like Eden and David had hoped, but most everyone but Will just chalks it up to being the something that helps people cope with hardships in life. Will begins to view it as something more sinister, and as the night progresses, he seems to be on the right track.
The Invitation does suspense very nicely. It is by no means an original idea (the same basic premise was used to a very different effect in 2013’s You’re Next most recently), but much like a blues song, The Invitation is more interested in pushing buttons than creating new ones. All of the characters are varying degrees of horror/suspense archetypes; the uptight one (Will), the free-spirit (Sadie), the off-kilter stranger (Pruitt), but the film does a very good job with the way it place the pieces. The score, by Theodore Shapiro, also helps to unsettle the mood.
Marshall-Green is particularly good as Will. He plays the character as comfortable in his own skin, but never comfortable in the situation. The flashbacks to he and Kara’s previous life fill in a lot of gaps and make the audience understand why he has the issues with the situation that he does. Blanchard is also very good as Eden, portraying her as totally self-assured one-moment to borderline break-down the next. She has the hardest range of emotions to go through and she makes it seem easy.
The cinematography by Bobby Shore is spot-on as well. Jettisoning the blue, shadowy look of so many modern horror/suspense films, the look of The Invitation is crisp and easy to follow, while also being somewhat askew at the same time. The color pallet is very muted (think updated 1970’s) and gives the film an almost otherworldly feel at times. I doubt this was an accident, and it works to the film’s advantage.
Karen Kusama has managed to make a film that is both of it’s time, and timeless. Much Like Ti West’s House of the Devil, The Invitation is a throwback film that feels thoroughly modern. There isn’t much in the way of modern film tricks, just a good story told well by competent people, and that is a lot harder to come by than it should be these days. In a film world ruled by CGI, superheros, and explosions, it’s good to know that people are still making films like this.
The Invitation is a lean and mean suspense film. It doesn’t need a lot of frills to tell the story that it does, and I for one am thankful when a movie like this one comes along. The film is playing in limited release, and I was lucky enough to catch it at the Chattanooga Film Festival a couple of weeks back. It is also available on VOD platforms so track it down and have fun with it. You can thank me later.
Until next time…