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The Invitation

I’m real late to the dinner party (get it, because this is a movie about a dinner party), but THE INVITATION is a potent suspense thriller well-deserving of its reputation from film festivals and indie circuit release from Drafthouse Films. It’s tense and uncomfortable and it’s best not to know what sort of bad thing it’s leading up to, but don’t worry. You can sense its presence from early on.

Will (Logan Marshall-Green, who I did not recognize as the whiny boyfriend I hated so much in PROMETHEUS) and Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi, MILES AHEAD) are a couple invited to this other couple’s house out in the Hollywood Hills. It’s an awkward reunion for a close circle of friends who haven’t seen or heard from these party-givers in two years. There’s love and laughing and joking, but also weirdness with Eden (Tammy Blanchard, BLUE JASMINE)’s extra long hug of Will. And it starts to come out that not only are they exes, but their marriage ended because of a tragedy. They had a son who died in an accident right here at this house.

In the turmoil they went their separate ways, finding their own methods of dealing with it. Will seems to turn it all inward, but Eden claims to have found happiness at a retreat in Mexico. Everything turns super uncomfortable when she and the new hubby David (Michiel Huisman, BLACK BOOK) turn preachy about it. They even make everybody watch a promotional video! The friends try to take it in humor and friendly open-mindedness, but exchange glances of disbelief.

Much of the movie’s tension is social. Will, as a central victim of this tragedy, is pissed off by David talking about it as if he owns it. The friends try to keep Will calm. Kira, as the new girlfriend who’s accepted but not close with these people, is in the worst position. And I don’t know, there might be something going on with their relationship too. There are times when you’d think she’d rush to make sure he’s okay, but she doesn’t.

As everybody tries to brush off all the weirdness, Will gets more upset and suspicious. There are two people at the party who aren’t part of this circle, both weirdos from the cult. When Pruitt (John Carroll Lynch, GRAN TORINO) gives a little TMI about the cult helping him find peace after doing time for murdering his wife, there’s more reason to worry. But Will starts making accusations that don’t necessarily hold up. Kira is horrified that he’s out of line and the others worry that he’s breaking down. He’s not sure either, I suspect.

I guess this would be considered a slow burn, but the burning is most of the fun. It doesn’t feel uneventful. To me it’s leading to a satisfying payoff, but don’t expect some shocking twist that justifies the rest of the movie. It’s almost a relief, an end to the mystery of what exactly is gonna go wrong here. A moment of truth when they get to stop worrying about saying the wrong thing and just try to survive.

The acclaim for this has earned a comeback for director for Karyn Kusama, who came on the scene with the big-deal-at-the-time indie drama GIRLFIGHT, which gave the world Michelle Rodriguez. Kusama’s two Hollywood followups, AEON FLUX and JENNIFER’S BODY, were poorly received and seemingly killed her career. I agree that they’re flawed, but both have more good qualities than they get credit for. In fact, it was Charlize Theron’s game performance in AEON FLUX that made me a fan. When I first heard she was gonna be in a MAD MAX movie I didn’t think about how much I loved her in YOUNG ADULT (from the same writer as JENNIFER’S BODY) as much as I thought about her dedication to badass movements and poses in AEON FLUX.

In both of those Kusama apparently struggled to get her vision through the studio obstacle course, so it was a smart move to go small with this limited-location, dialogue heavy script by Phil Hay & Matt Manfredi (THE TUXEDO, AEON FLUX, R.I.P.D., RIDE ALONG 1-3).

Early on (after an intense opening that’s weirdly similar to GET OUT‘s) I thought there were a few of those self conscious line deliveries that you get in the more amateurish indie movies that play a film festival or two and never go anywhere. But the whole ensemble quickly get into their groove, with a particularly strong performance by Greene. This is a gripping suspense movie that finds its horror in grown up topics like grief and how it affects relationships between spouses and friends. And like Eli Roth’s KNOCK KNOCK, Kusama finds spooky atmosphere in the Hollywood Hills, where there are beautiful, modern, rich people homes that are geographically isolated enough that they might as well be the TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE house. If some shit went down while you were in there how the hell would anybody notice?

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Wednesday, April 19th, 2017 at 10:24 am and is filed under Reviews, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

8 Responses to “The Invitation”

  1. Man, I guess I’m just the asshole because people really seem to dig this film, and I just couldn’t get into it. I get the idea it’s going for, but I thought the performances and dialogue were really shallow and sometimes noticeably exactly the kind of self-conscious overwritten amateur type business Vern mentioned. That would be fine in a horror more with more genre goods, but without some solid slashing or monsters and stuff it really stood out to me. You’re supposed to be getting tension from the intensity of the uncomfortable drama, but I just didn’t find any of the characters here interesting or believable, and so I couldn’t get into it at all. The finale is OK, and I’m glad Vern liked it, but I can’t help but feel that a lot of the critical love this one got just comes down to the facts that critics just don’t like horror movies. And this is a horror movie which is mostly not a horror movie. But is it really a good drama? I sure didn’t think so.(you can see my full review here if you’re so inclined)

  2. Weird thing this movie gets – religion is supposed to be serious business, it’s integral to many people’s identity and shapes their believes. But take that belief to its logical conclusion, start worshiping death and being cool with your kid dying and people start looking at you like you’re crazy.
    So ok, there is no God, let’s go ol’ nihilistic way. But let’s be real with it as well and commit suicide, as nothing ever matters. Then you’re crazy too, because healthy guys tend not to do that. WHICH ONE IS IT PEOPLE.

  3. I agree the social pressure is far more frightening than whatever SPOILER happens later. People need to let others have their own process for dealing with grief. We see it more and more these days with people dictating how others should feel.

    But I think what’s telling is how desperate Eden and co. Are to have everyone believe in their briefs. People with conviction don’t need to be validated. They could share a helpful system but wouldn’t care if someone chose to reject it. They just tried to offer it. Their insecurity betrays the value of their beliefs.

  4. Yes I also had to overcome my hatred of Logan Marshal-Green based on the fact that his character in “Prometheus” is supposedly a scientist (who talks like a Boston bar bouncer) finds some cave drawings at the start of the film, convinces a company to spend $1 trillion (the actual amount quoted in the movie) to send them to a distant planet on a hunch, after which they arrive at that planet and immediately find the exact spot they were looking for, then discover an alien space craft, then incontrovertible evidence of an alien civilization and absolute proof that their wild hypothesis was totally accurate, all within their first hour after landing. But because they don’t yet find an actual living alien before they have to turn back for the night, he gets pissed off and blind drunk and wonders if they “wasted their time.” I’m pretty sure this is not how real scientists behave.

    Either way, he’s actually really good in this and so is Tammy Blanchard, who I don’t remember seeing before but comes across as what I think she is supposed to be, kind of an over-the-hill former Lindsay Lohan-type who has adopted some version of Scientology/Kabbalah that seems harmless to her friends, until …. well you’ll have to see. Either way, this is one of those movies that seems pretty damn good while you’re watching it, but the last 20 seconds makes you want to see it again with fresh eyes.

    BTW, for a movie directed by the superhot writing-directing team (at that time) of Diablo Cody-Jason Reitman, I find it weird that “Young Adult” has kind of been forgotten in many ways despite the fact that it’s a really great and uncompromising film.

  5. I liked it way more than others “horror movies for people who don’t like horror movies” like THE BABADOOK or IT FOLLOWS. The actors are good and there’s no boring monster that’s really supposed to be “about something”.
    But I do wish horror movie writers would finally accept the existence of cell phones and learn to integrate them into the stories. The whole “one character mentions that there’s no signal and nobody ever tries to use their phone again until the end of the movie” is pretty lazy (I’ll admit THE INVITATION is not the worst offender, the main character does try his again).

  6. I saw this one so I feel obligated to comment (catching up on Vern review backlog over a bottle of wine and 80s hair metal, you know how it is).

    Having said that, now I’m not so sure what to contribute. It was OK? I think this is the kind of movie where another viewing would give me a little more to say, but I’m not sure another viewing is worth my time. I will say that I watched it with no previous knowledge of the movie, and I do not regret seeing it, but it’s not like it stuck with me. I’ve spent like 10 mins trying to say something worthwhile and it’s just not happening.

    Ok fellow viewers who understand the concept of reasonably decent movies, what do you call it when you see a movie that’s just pretty good?

  7. Ugh I’m kind of embarrassed by my last comment. I will try harder in the future to provide actually meaningful commentary. Apologies to Vern, et al.

  8. And now I understand the brilliance of some of Vern’s reviews – he’s always able to find something meaningful even in an otherwise unremarkable movie.

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