Yeah, next time, steer clear of those dinner-party invites from exes.
Will (Logan Marshall-Green) drives with his girlfriend Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi) to a home in Hollywood Hills where his ex-wife Eden (Tammy Blanchard), is hosting a dinner party with her new husband David (Michiel Huisman). Will hasn’t seen Eden in quite some time and hasn’t even met David yet, so already, he’s a bit tense. However, he knows that everything will be all fine and dandy once he gets there, enjoys the fine wine that’s being constantly handed to him all willy nilly, and relax for a change. After all, a good portion of his life has been covered in tension and anguish, so it’s nice that he’s at least going to his ex-wife’s place, hopefully to build back up some bridges, as well as creating new ones. When Will gets there, however, he can’t help but be a little spooked out. For some reason, Will starts seeing things that may or may not be there; a half-naked girl no one seems to know, some random, much older fella nobody else has a clue about, either, all show up and make Will, as well as others feel uneasy. However, Eden and David know this, so they decide to eventually tell everybody what this whole little shindig is about and made for, and needless to say, it shocks a lot of people, or most importantly, Will.
The Invitation is the the perfect definition of a “taut thriller”. Director Karyn Kusama doesn’t allow for things to get off too fast or too crazy early on – instead, she just takes her time, slowly meandering from one place to another, giving us a little something to hold onto, and slowly, but most surely, building up more and more tension as she runs along. The movie itself, you could argue, does take an awful long enough time to get going, to the point of where it almost feels manipulative, but there’s something oddly spooky and chilly in the air about the Invitation that makes it worth watching, even in its sillier, more boring moments.
For instance, there’s never the slightest clue of what’s going to be revealed, or what’s going to happen at the end of the movie.
Okay, that’s a lie. Watching the Invitation, I myself couldn’t help but feel like I knew where the story was going about halfway through, and while I wasn’t necessarily proven wrong, I still can’t say that I was ticked-off about it, either. The movie already did a fine enough job of getting me involved with this little dinner-party, even if I didn’t know a single thing about any of these characters or why they matter, however, it’s such a slow-burn, and an interesting one at that, that sometimes, it almost doesn’t matter how goofy the reveal can be. Sometimes, all you need is a little intrigue to keep things guiding along and all can practically can be forgiven.
And hell, you could make the same argument about Kusama as a director. After the tremendous Girlfight, sadly, she got stuck in a bit of Hollywood limbo as most fresh, young and ambitious directors who want to take on the world tend to be stuck in. Aeon Flux wanted to be bad-ass and cool, but instead, was just boring, and Jennifer’s Body, despite being a whole lot like everything else that Diablo Cody’s ever done, with a darker spin, still didn’t fully work as a horror-comedy. Now, however, Kusama has found her sweet spot, working with a story that’s both mysterious, dark and oddly enough, just weird enough to make it seem like she’s playing back to her old friends that put her on the map in the first place.
Of course, the script by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi is also pretty damn good, too, but it’s Kusama who is able to translate this all and make it appear as suspenseful as you can get, when all you really have is people talking, that really surprised me. Small, single-location, almost character-driven thrillers such as this work for me, when they’re done especially right. While I wouldn’t necessarily say that the Invitation is “character-driven” per se, it still deals with a good handful of characters that you can at least identify with and get a good feel for, even if you don’t care for them, or know that they’re up to no good.
Basically, it’s any dinner-party, ever, where some people you like, and others, you don’t.
We’ve all been to one of them, right?
Anyway, the cast here is fine. Logan Marshall-Green’s Will was a tad bit boring, but he still shows himself to be an interesting enough protagonist to make sense of why he’s our eyes and ears for this story; Emayatzy Corinealdi is sweet and smart as Kira; Tammy Blanchard is very strange and off-putting as Eden, although perfectly so; Michiel Huisman is both every bit of charming and sinister as you expect him to be as David, although it could be a tad difficult to tell him and Marshall-Green apart (although, I guess the joke here is that Eden sure as hell has a “type” in that she likes dudes with huge beards and an interesting, if slightly pretentious personality); and John Carroll Lynch, who seems to come out of nowhere just to be “the creepy guy”, is, well, perfect at it and need I say more?
In fact, the Invitation plays out in such a way that I won’t spoil it for you here. It’s both freaky, fun and interesting, if also a tad bit silly. Movies like this that take themselves so seriously always seem to set themselves up for scrutiny when they let their freak flag fly and let loose. Surely, there’s nothing wrong with this when it’s a bit of fun, but when your movie starts off as an interesting, conversation-sparking tale about death, grief, sadness and failed marriages, it’s hard not to wonder what happened when everything all of a sudden turns into a grind house flick.
Then again, maybe this is just how L.A. dinner parties are.
Damn, I need to move out of Philly and fast.
Consensus: By elevating the tension as it runs along, the Invitation is both a suspenseful, but fun bit of dark-thriller that may not have a whole lot to say, but does a fine enough job with what it’s got to make an impression.
7 / 10
Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire