Over the past few years, there have been a number of films that take place over a meal where friends have gathered. It was handled with great comedic effect in the David Cross led film It’s a Disaster about an unending brunch that may result in the apocalypse. Karyn Kusama’s new film The Invitation examines similar proceedings with deadly seriousness. From the first frame, the film exists in an atmosphere of menace and unease. Kusama, working from a script by her husband Phil Hay and collaborator Matt Manfredi, plants us in the middle of the party with an audience surrogate who is wholly unreliable and fascinatingly removed from his own patch of reality. The film begins as Will (Logan Marshall-Green) and his girlfriend Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi) arrive for a dinner party at Will’s ex-wife, Eden’s (Tammy Blanchard) house. From the get go, this seems like an idea that can only go south. The group of friends that is assembled has been estranged from each other for the last two years due to a slowly revealed completely integral tragedy. Eden’s boyfriend David (Michiel Huisman), though unrelated to the group except through Eden, oddly seems to be the conductor of the night. He has broken out an ’85 Rothschild for the occasion, because tonight as he states, is special. In addition to the group of friends, there are two other guests that don’t seem to fit. The two extra guests, Sadie (Lindsay Burdge) and Pruitt (John Carroll Lynch) don’t seem to quite fit the bill at this bourgeois party of young, attractive, seemingly all wealthy semi-bohemians. John Carroll Lynch who beautifully depicts the character of Pruitt is immediately unnerving when he enters the picture and is literally the lynchpin of the evening’s wicked pleasures. That’s the setup and as for the plot, that’s all you need. It isn’t a movie based on plot, but one based on the ability of a director as skilled as Kusama to slowly and effectively piece this rather simple story together. I couldn’t help but be reminded of Hitchcock’s eerily comic Rope about two men who kill their best friend and then hide him in a trunk during a dinner party. In what must be a direct nod to that Hitchcock film, there is one dinner guest that can’t be found. Kusama confines the film to a 1970’s art deco home expertly. By the climax of the film, the audience is fully integrated into the space to the point where we understand the geography of the house as well as our protagonist. The camera almost seems to intrude on the party in some ways; particularly at one beautifully realized moment where Will watches a character through a window, placing the viewer in the same vantage point as Will so that we are left dangling just like him. One of the great pleasures of the film is how, even as the party descends further into a rabbit hole of eerie surrealistic exchanges and moments, all the guests are guided by their pleasantries. Maybe it is the copious amounts of red wine, or perhaps they are all slightly seduced by the air of part menace and part pseudo-psychology. The script seems destined to push these characters as far as they are willing to go before they break down. This is even most effective since our protagonist is unreliable. He is at the party, but he has his own motives and is completely removed from the group. His stability is shown with such precision as he is unable to hold his attention on conversation after conversation. Logan Marshall-Green, in just a few flashbacks, creates a character of rich dichotomy to the Will we see in the present. The character of Will is shown in stark duality with David. David is charming, smart, and polite, all while teetering on the edge of potential nefariousness. David is all talk and does that quite well, while Will has to force himself to utter the smallest nicety. The film is fraught with scene after scene of small reveals that seduce you until they build to a monologue by Pruitt which suddenly plunges the audience further into the sinister nature of the party. The script brilliantly takes the normality of a common dinner party and infuses it with enough truth so that when the horror strikes we understand why the group hasn’t run for the hills yet. Kusama works with her cinematographer Bobby Shore to paint this tightly confined world in a muted palette of darkly lit browns and creams. The copious shots of wine build and build upon each other until the film drifts into a hazy mélange of partial truths and unnecessary tragedies slowly revealed. The movie works on a level of pure suspense, and even if this was the only tone, it would still be an admirable effort. What elevates The Invitation is the slow teasing out of the past. Although they have grown apart, these are longtime friends who seamlessly fall back into that same rapport they once had like true friends do. The final third of the film finds its rightful coronation as Kusama propels the story to a logical and devastating end. If the film was your standard thriller, these final scenes would be tacked on and sadistic. The way Kusama gets the audience to the final scene feels inevitable, though. The script deals with two central performances that push against each other before they must inexorably break. Most impressive is that the motivations of all the central characters seem completely logical from their point of view when we as the audience we know they are completely ridiculous. The script balances the tension with a sense of prevailing sadness. In some way, the film reflects the same world view as Jeff Nichols’ Midnight Special which is all about the righteous protection of a parent. The Invitation similarly is all about what happens when you are unable to protect the life that you care so deeply about. The personal tragedy on display is our entry point to the character of Will and his ex-wife Eden. As backwards as we may see their decision-making at some points, we understand how they got there, and how this isn’t the life they anticipated. At the conclusion of the film, Kusama gives the audience an image of such artistic clarity which sums up the theme in one beautiful, haunting final moment. The second to last image is something on a macro level while the last shot pulls back into something so empathetic and humane. Although the two shots could have easily been reversed, the order makes all the difference in staying consistent with the overall theme. The film has been one of small delights and Kusama knows this is the note to leave the audience on. The Invitation is a small scale gem that could so easily get lost in the shuffle as summer movie season ramps up. Kusama’s unobtrusive direction doesn’t make the movie a surefire hit and could be a hard sell because it has so many twists and turns done subtly. Subtle films tend to get overlooked, but this is a film to be sought after. Like an ’85 Rothschild, it needs to be found and thought over. It isn’t going to meet you, you have to meet it. See larger image Invitation, The [Blu-Ray/DVD] In this taut psychological thriller by Karyn Kusama (Girlfight, Jennifer’s Body), the tension is palpable when Will (Logan Marshall-Green, Prometheus) shows up to his ex-wife Eden (Tammy Blanchard, Into the Woods) and new husband David’s (Michiel Huisman, “Game of Thrones”) dinner party. The pair’s tragic past haunts an equally spooky present: Amid Eden’s suspicious behavior and her mysterious house guests, Will becomes convinced that his invitation was extended with a hidden agenda. Unfolding over one dark evening in the Hollywood Hills, The Invitation blurs layers of mounting paranoia, mystery, and horror until both Will–and the audience–are unsure what threats are real or imagined. New From: $20.34 USD In Stock Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.