The Invitation is the latest offering from the director who brought us Æon Flux and Jennifer’s Body; Karyn Kusama. Written by the scribes who put together the poorly received R.I.P.D. (Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi) the film is a surprising look at grief and how it affects the group dynamic.
Considering the events of 2016, it can also be seen as a statement on society and its reactions to death and the overall state of disarray that is modern America.
The film opens with Will (Logan Marshall-Green) and Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi) driving through what looks like the Hollywood hills. They are on the way to a dinner party being hosted by Will’s ex; Eden (Tammy Blanchard) and her new partner David (Michiel Huisman).
On the way their car strikes a coyote. Will checks on the animal and as it is not dead he kills it with a tire iron. This opening scene sets up the rest of the film rather well. We learn that it has been years since Will has had contact with Eden and that he is a compassionate man.
He is also not afraid to get his hands bloody.
Not to say that Will is bloodthirsty, he does hesitate, but ultimately the thought of killing the animal as an act of mercy carries him forward.
The party is full of old friends from when Eden and Will were married, sans “Choi” who has not arrived yet. New additions to the group party are David, Pruitt (played by prolific character actor John Carroll Lynch) and Sadie (Lindsay Burdge).
The atmosphere at Will’s old home, he shared it with Eden previously, is uncomfortable acceptance. It is not clear yet just what happened to drive the two apart but there is an apparent awkwardness between the two.
As the party progresses it appears that there is a hidden agenda behind the invitation. David and Eden seem to belong to a cult that they encountered in Sonora, Mexico. Even before this revelation, and the disturbing “recruitment” video, Will is uncomfortable and wary of the rationale behind this get together.
The house is full of memories and he has flashbacks while his uneasiness increases. What are Eden and David really up to and why are Pruitt and Sadie there? And where is Choi?
Kusama puts us in an uncomfortable place from scene one. Using subdued shades of color and a minimalistic soundtrack our senses are directed fully at the characters and their behavior. The discord and suspicion that Will is experiencing practically screams in our faces and we are soon caught up in his paranoia, anxiety and grief.
The sound used, oh so sparingly, includes an effect not too dissimilar from the violin noise used in Ringu (the sound plays during repeated viewings of the cursed video) and each time we hear it, our own unease increases.
The Invitation is captivating. The film is not adrenaline paced nor is there any nudity or exciting interactions between characters for the vast majority of the film. The movie does have an ticking sense of rhythm however. Like a metronome the pace is a slow cadence that moves us toward the intense conclusion.
There is a splendid double twist at the end that is not signposted anywhere in the film. Like the main protagonist Will, we can almost guess one of the little fillips toward the end but not the other.
There are oddly discordant moments throughout and Marshall-Green manages to pull us along with him and his paranoiac stress. (The actor looked very different from his character in Prometheus, beard not withstanding, and he proves here that he is not a one trick pony.)
John Carroll Lynch manages to be menacing despite his calm exterior. The sheer size of the man helps to enforce this image of pent up rage. (The actor is six feet three inches tall and has hugeness keeps him from looking less like a string bean and more like a professional wrestler.)
Blanchard and Hulsman pull off equal parts creepy and unconventional affection while working well together to increase the uneasiness. They also manage to set the teeth on edge with their jarring behavior.
At 100 minutes the film comes close to feeling too long, but this appears to be on purpose as it does intensify the feelings of unease at the dinner party’s direction. If one were in that social setting the entire party would feel overly long.
By the end of the film we are drained by this intense experience. The Invitation is close to being an art house film sans subtitles. It boasts a depth that is impressive and a plot with an ending that is surprising and it is shocking.
This is a 5 star effort. Streaming on Netflix at the moment set aside some time to see this one. It is gripping and intense. Do not miss this one.