Going into the Beyond Fest screening of The Invitation, all I really knew was that people liked it. THAT’S IT. The film screened in a double feature with Invasion of the Body Snatchers, so it was safe to assume that both movies were about aliens and would both feature Donald Sutherland making a terrifying noise. Guys…I really don’t want to say more than this, because the enjoyment of The Invitation comes from the building tension of the lead character’s paranoia. Do yourself a favor and watch The Invitation knowing as little about it as possible, knowing only that it’s a nerve-racking examination of grief with a constant state of dread that will have you on edge of your figurative seat.
Hot tip if you’re trying to recruit someone into a cult: do it using babes.
After disappearing off the face of the earth for two years, Eden (Tammy Blanchard) and David (Michiel Huisman) invite their supposedly closest friends over to their house for a dinner party, including Eden’s ex-husband Will (Logan Marshall-Green). Making things even more uncomfortable, Eden invites Will to her current home that she formerly shared with Will and their now dead son. Oh, and Eden left Will for David. DOESN’T THIS SOUND LIKE A FUN PARTY?! Everyone’s excitement over seeing Eden again trumps their disappointment of not having seen her for so long. The whole evening drums up a slow of tragic, emotional memories in Will, who has a hard time grasping how Eden can seem so lucid about the situation. Eden and David casually bring up that they’ve come to terms with tragedy in their life thanks to “The Invitation,” a spiritual group of people who come together to support one another’s desires. Yes, every dinner guest calls it a cult, but Eden and David don’t get too offended. As the night goes on, Will notices peculiar things happening that raise his suspicions about the intentions of the couple. Some suspicions are corroborated, some suspicions are proven completely wrong, but by the end of the movie you’ll know if Will was right or if he was just a paranoid jerk who became trapped in a prison of guilt.
Just doing some sad beard-thinking.
Guys…I love cult stuff! Whether the cults actually exist in a film or not, I don’t care, but not being able to trust the people close to you and thinking about them deceiving you makes me feel super uncomfortable. In that respect, The Invitation is super uncomfortable. The whole film takes place in one house and director Karyn Kusama takes you to incredibly claustrophobic spaces and creates very intimate moments. The film plays out more like a play than a movie while you watch this tight ensemble fire their dialogue back and forth. Marshall-Green holds the cast together while the audience experiences the bizarre evening unfold, while simultaneously collapsing into himself as he comes to terms with the depth of grief over his son’s death. Not since Cheap Thrills have I felt so assaulted by a film that merely portrays real characters engaging in real conversations and arguments. There didn’t even need to be blood or guts or demons or anything! The entire cast and crew clearly found harmony working together to create a singular, fully-realized vision that could have merely been a discussion of something far more trivial than grief and have been just as compelling.
There’s NO need to get this fired up over crappy food.
When crafting a film that hinges on a reveal of a main character’s paranoia being correct or being dismissed, difficulties arise when you confirm or deny those suspicions. With Rosemary’s Baby, once the truth reveals itself, the following events are so baffling that you realize things ran much deeper than even audience members thought. Similarly in Kill List, once the protagonist learn how deep the conspiracy ran, the ramifications couldn’t have gotten more tragic. When the stakes aren’t quite as deadly, as they are in Sound of My Voice, once the film reveals the truth, the credits roll moments later. Without spoiling things too much, when The Invitation reveals its truth and the paranoid tension dissipates, the finale stretches out too long and loses steam. The final shot redeems some of the tension I felt it lost in that finale, but still not enough for me to love the entire experience. Even if the film lost me in the last 15 minutes, The Invitation earns a spot alongside aforementioned culty creepouts as one of the more compelling depiction of the madness that can consume someone stricken with overwhelming grief.
Wolfman Moon Scale