Director: Karyn Kusama
Writers: Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi
Stars: Logan Marshall-Green, Emayatzy Corinealdi, Tammy Blanchard, Michiel Huisman, John Carroll Lynch, Michelle Krusiec, Mike Doyle, Jordi Vilasuso, Marieh Delfino, Jay Larson, Lindsay Burdge
A few years after the tragic death of his son and the subsequent demise of his marriage, Will (Green) and his girlfriend, Kira (Corinealdi), receive an invitation to a dinner party with old friends thrown by his ex-wife, Eden (Blanchard), and her new husband, David (Huisman). At first the gathering is awkward as the friends try to get to know one another again after a couple of years of absence from each other’s lives, politely tiptoeing around the many elephants in the room. But there is an air of tension that becomes more intense after two of Eden and David’s friends, Sadie (Burdge) and Pruitt (Lynch), join the party.
Eden and David had been off the radar from everyone for the last two years and have finally returned to the LA area. They confess at the party they, along with Sadie and Pruitt, have been in Mexico at “The Invitation” compound. “The Invitation” is a spiritual group that helps people who have suffered from various tragedies let go of their guilt and grief and any other negative emotions holding them down. This group may or may not be a cult and all of a sudden the party takes on an air of recruitment. Is Will feeling his sense of dread because he is back at the house where he raised his son for the first time after the end of his marriage? Or is something more sinister at play?
I hesitate to call The Invitation a thriller because placing a film in that genre makes it sound like it is exciting or even fast paced. This movie is not overly energizing, it has its moments, but it is a slow burn that turns your stomach in knots when watching. It is more like observing someone slowly spiral into paranoia. The tag line for the movie is “There is nothing to be afraid of” and depending on who or when someone is saying it, it can either be calming or terrifying. More than once someone says this line to Will.
Kusama allows her film to take its time to let that nagging feeling of “somethings not right” grow in your mind starting with the introduction of Eden and David. Their behavior is just slightly alien, nothing too alarming. If you had met them at a party and later had to describe them to your friends, you wouldn’t have the words to relay just how unusual they seemed. But it isn’t just them. Sadie and Pruitt behave just this side of normal as well.
Of course that odd tension could be attributed to Will reliving the memories of his son and the happier times between he and Eden while walking thru the house he once called home. Will has not dealt with losing his whole family. He chose to withdrawal into himself and away from the people closest to him. Will spends most of the party in silence observing everything around him with sadness and anger. Everyone’s overly polite conversation is getting to him. He wants them to acknowledge the grief written all over his face but they don’t push when he tells them he is doing okay. Eden has found the happiness and peace thru “The Invitation” that has alluded him and he can’t help but see the wrong in that. It drives him to be suspicious of those who follow the group’s teachings. The film allows you to wonder if Will is being overly paranoid and things are completely normal.
Green’s dead behind the eyes expression sells Will possible unhingement. In flashbacks to the happier times, Will has short normal hair and a clean shaven face, but at the party his hair is long and shaggy while his beard is reaching playoff hockey epicness. This is a man trying so desperately to hide his face from everyone. Blanchard’s smile as Eden borders on manic at times leading me to think she could really be unbalanced, but in a blink it is gone. There is a moment in the beginning where she snaps, but then it is quickly forgotten and replaced with a saccharine smile and a kiss. Really it is Lynch and Huisman who shine in their roles. They toe the line of normal in more than one occasion and cross it on others. They pass for super nice and ordinary people until they both relay their stories of how they came to “The Invitation” and it leaves you feeling a little ill.
The performances are solid, but it is Kusama’s direction that keeps the film’s tension high. Somehow she succeeds in making the movie feel hyper-real and surreal all at once. The look of the film is muted, but certain vibrant colors come thru. The burgundy of the wine, the whiteness of Eden’s dress, the blue water in the pool, a red lamp. It all is just a little too tangible; but as people move from room to room to talk or when they are all at the dinner table, the camera moves as if we are stuck in a dream. The sounds of the silverware, glasses clinking, and conversations become muted, then someone turns the volume to deafening in an instant.
Even the setting helps add to abnormal atmosphere. In LA people are strange and constantly want to talk about the newest spiritual awakening they have had. “The Invitation” is the next big thing in the long line of next big things to these Angelenos so they just nod along, enjoy the wine, and get thru the spiel.
The party is at a house in the Hollywood Hills where cell phone reception is sketchy at best and the guests are quite isolated from both the neighbors and the crowds of the metropolitan down below. Why does David keep the doors locked?
The Invitation is a great paranoid film that will make you a little wary the next time your friends invite you over for a dinner party.
5 out of 5 Stars