I just turned 32, and one of the weirdest things about getting older is that suddenly dinner parties become the go-to event for your friends. I’m not going to act like I don’t enjoy dinner parties. I do enjoy them, and in fact, I always have a good time. Still, I do hope I never ever get invited to a dinner party quite like the dinner party in The Invitation. (See that intro totally had a point).
The Invitation is a 2015 horror film directed by Karyn Kusama and written by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi. It stars Logan Marshall-Green and Tammy Blanchard. It premiered at SXSW last year and received a limited theatrical release in early April. It is also available on video on demand, and is one of the Drafthouse Films.
I have only seen one of Kusama’s other movies, Aeon Flux. That being said, The Invitation is an amazing achievement in filmmaking and makes me excited for whatever she produces next.
What’s the Movie About?
The Invitation follows the story of Will as he goes to his ex-wife Eden’s dinner party. He’s on the way to the party, along with his new girlfriend, Kira, when they hit a coyote and has the unfortunate task of putting it out of its misery. Once at the dinner party, it becomes clear that something is a bit off. Eden and her new husband, David, continually make statements and do things that would cause most people to question whether or not they should leave. Most of the other guests chalk this weirdness up to Will and Eden being in the same room for the first time in a few years. As the night goes on, Will starts recalling key parts of he and Eden’s past and it is revealed that the cause of their divorce was the accidental loss of their child, Ty. Since their split, Eden has lost touch with Will and the rest of their friends. We also learn that she has spent a few years in Mexico with what seems to be a self-help group of sorts. Contributing to the general feeling of unease, guests Pruitt and Sadie are also introduced. These are the people they met in Mexico, and are members of the same self-help group.
As the night goes on, Will starts recalling key parts of his and Eden’s past, and it is revealed that the cause of their divorce was the accidental loss of their child, Ty. Since their split, Eden has lost touch with Will and the rest of their friends. We also learn that she has spent a few years in Mexico with what seems to be a self-help group of sorts. Contributing to the general feeling of unease, guests Pruitt and Sadie are also introduced. These are the people they met in Mexico, and are members of the same self-help group. From there, the night unfolds and we are along for the ride at the strangest dinner party ever.
Kusama does an excellent job directing. She spends most of the movie building tension and playing up the greater mystery. At the same time, she is laying groundwork for what happens. This is done so well that when you do find out the answer, it doesn’t feel like a twist, but instead a final piece of the puzzle which allows you to see the entire picture. Often, horror movies spend a lot of time on unnecessary scares, but Kusama opts to make you care deeply about the characters, and really lets you live and breath in the world. You feel like you’re there attending the party. She punctuates the building tension with humor and angry outbursts from characters so that the viewer can periodically release this tension and stay engaged with the film. Kusama also layers a meta-narrative on top of the main story, further complicating the plot, thus making the ending difficult to predict.
Music has a substantial impact on horror movies and movies in general, and using the wrong music can completely ruin a film. Thankfully, Theodore Shapiro’s score comes through in spades. It does a great job of adding to the unease to the situation. It is distinctive, and at the same time, understated. It is the best type of score, one that never does more than is needed to help the film achieve it’s goals.
(Most of) The Acting
A film like The Invitation would not work without great acting. For the most part, the actors do an outstanding job. Most of them have played many different types of characters in other films, but those roles completely fall away. For instance, David, played by Michiel Huisman, plays Daario Naharis on Game of Thrones, and Pruitt, played by John Carroll Lynch, is a long time actor that has had parts on The Drew Carey Show, House of Lies and other shows. These actors do such a good job that you genuinely forget that they are not the actual people at this very odd dinner party.
Only one actor, Jay Larson, who plays Ben, is somewhat out of place. It feels like he belongs in another, funnier movie. Though the style of his performance may be intentional, it doesn’t quite fit in the narrative that Kusama has created.
In the tradition of great movies, the only real complaint I have is that it did not show the viewer more of its “world.” It sticks pretty close to this one dinner party, but I would have loved to see more of the world it built.
Toby Huss plays the leader of the self-help group, and shows up throughout the movie in video clips. My girlfriend pointed out that he also played Artie on The Adventures of Pete and Pete. Yes, that Artie. The strongest man….in the world.
Hints at a larger world
The Invitation has a great scene towards the end of the film, which hints towards more stories to tell. It’s certainly intriguing, and if you are like me, you will be heading to the nearest outdoor camping store to get a certain item for your Halloween decorations.
The Invitation is a film that is worth your time and EASILY worth the ten bucks to just buy it instead of renting it first. It is easily my favorite horror movie of 2016, and one of my favorite movies of 2016 so far.
I give it 10 out of 10 glasses of wine.