MOVIE REVIEW: The Invitation



Adorned with the weights of divorce, loss, and tested friendship, “The Invitation” wears those issues like a cloak to hide its real menacing intent and implications underneath.  Karyn Kusama’s film holds a marvelous poker face that siphons your piqued curiosity and unraveling attention.  “The Invitation” might be labeled as a horror film, but it far better fits the prodigious “mindfuck film” subgenre label, following the likes of “The One I Love” and “The Gift” in recent years.  Enjoy the steady increased heart rate and spinning cerebrum this film has to offer.

The isolated developments of “The Invitation” surround a decadent dinner party arranged at the swanky L.A. home of a woman named Eden (stage actress Tammy Blanchard) and her new beau David (Michiel Huisman of “The Age of Adaline”).  Arriving to that party with his new girlfriend Kira (“Middle of Nowhere” discovery Emayatzy Corinealdi) is Will, our central eyes and observer in the film played by “Prometheus” star Logan Marshall-Green.  Will is Eden’s ex-husband and this is the home they built and shared together.  They are joined by a small crowd of old friends, a group that hasn’t spent time together for the better part of two years.   

During that time, Eden and Will went through a painful family loss and resulting divorce.  Eden spent two years getting herself right at a retreat in Mexico, which is where she met David and made new acquaintances.   Together again, the guests share pleasantries that rekindle their lost bonds and promise new beginnings, but the overall uncomfortableness is thick enough to cut with a knife.  No one knows why Eden has brought them together and that question of “why” hangs over everything and everyone. 

Hints of those old wounds and severed ties come to light through the uneasy dialogue and body language of these reunions.  Guarded banter meets impatient anxiety.  That uneasiness is greatest for Will in returning to this house and seeing Eden again.  His own wandering and flickering flashback thoughts offer trace intimations of what happened in the past.  Once Eden reveals her and David’s motivation for bringing Will and everyone together, the temperature rises, safety is risked, and the perturbing truth begins to emerge.

With that clever and purposeful execution, Kusama’s film, written by her husband Phil Hay and his writing partner Matt Manfredi, achieves volumes with tone over exposition.  The film’s palette shrewdly matches that intention.  Theodore Shapiro’s musical score hides in the background and never gives way to slasher film chords and strikes.  Cinematographer Bobby Shore skips the cheap handheld cam trope and employs deft and static camera work.  He helps Kusama veil her film around doorways and corners and through hallways, windows, and mirrors.  All of this tone increases the film’s intensity as it builds. 

Much about “The Invitation,” and the title’s double meaning within the movie, is best left unspoiled.  It is greatly worth your effort to discover individually.  Two people could watch this film and get completely different vibes, which is part of the fun.  The only hints to figuring out the puzzle and purpose come in observing people and quirks.  You feel like an extra guest alongside Will and his questioning psyche.  Just when you think you have a pulse, see a seam, or think you have a lead, “The Invitation” folds in one more emotion, revelation, or development.   The effect is remarkably alluring.

LESSON #1: THE AWKWARDNESS OF SEEING A FORMER LOVER AGAIN—No matter the setting or the amicable circumstances, there will always be nerves in these meetings.  People can have new looks and new attitudes all they want, but they won’t matter.  Expectations and comparisons collide with strong emotions associated with good and bad memories of affection, attraction, grief, regret, anger, and what not that neither person can shake or escape.

LESSON #2: DIFFERENT PATHS OF COPING AFTER A SHARED TRAGEDY—Without spoiling what it is, the loss shared by Will and Eden was severe enough to lead to their split, his reclusive shift, and her rehabilitation vacation.   Their friends were split in the middle.  There are multiple right and wrong paths and choices that can be taken in healing one’s mind and heart.  

LESSON #3: SKEPTICS VERSUS THE DEVOUT—Segueing from Lesson #2, people make up their minds on those aforementioned paths.  Tragedy can create both cynics and believers and those represented schools of thought.  Within the tension and conflict of “The Invitation,” there exists a mix of those two stances that add to the disharmony.