A man goes to a party hosted by his ex-wife and her new husband. Still grieving the loss of his son which also destroyed his marriage he starts to think that something is very wrong in this house. As he relives memories of his past life there with his son and wife he becomes more and more paranoid about why the party is taking place.
April 8th 2016 VOD
Logan Marshall-Green as Will
Emayatzy Corinealdi as Kira
Tammy Blanchard as Eden
Michiel Huisman as David
John Carroll Lynch as Pruitt
The Invitation is a tremendous exercise in tension and understated but devastating horror. Jennifer’s Body director Karyn Kusama hits psychological horror gold with this disquieting work of suburban terror.
Many of us have been there, being in a situation where things just don’t feel quite right. You want to say something but everybody else just seems to be fine, laughing and chatting away while you get that anxious ache in the pit of your stomach. Usually everything is fine but what if it wasn’t? What could be going on behind those smiling faces, the hugs and affirmations of love and support? Something just doesn’t sit right but you’re terrifyingly alone in feeling this way.
Will (Logan Marshall-Green – Prometheus) is heading up to a party taking place in the affluent hills of Los Angeles, to a house that was once his home. The party is a reunion with many old friends and also his ex-wife Eden (Tammy Blanchard) who with her new husband David (Michiel Huisman – Orphan Black, Game of Thrones)who had essentially vanished for two years. Will’s eagerness for the opportunity to see old friends again is tempered with having to return to the place where his son died and his marriage fell apart. With his partner Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi) in tow Will enters the warm atmosphere of familiarity and the pleasure of old company. Will still cannot quite settle down, Eden is relentlessly cheerful to the point of distraction and David’s hospitality seems hollow. There are also strangers in what was once his home, Sadie (Lindsay Burdge) is an outgoing but slightly off-kilter guest and then another friend arrives. Pruitt (John Caroll Lynch – American Horror Story, Zodiac) is David’s friend, older than the rest of the party, who has a very strange story to tell. Will’s discomfort only increases as he is flooded with memories of his young son, the wounds left from his death still raw . Overcome with emotion and growing increasingly concerned by Eden and David’s behavior; Will becomes increasingly paranoid as his emotional and psychological state begins to spin out of control. Plus where is their friend Choi? He’s never been this late before.
The Invitation is a film where it’s best going in know as little as humanly possible about it. The fact that you’re reading this review on a horror site is almost too much of a giveaway. However there is much to talk about without having to talk about major plot points. For instance, the grip that this film has on the audience is tight and only increases in tension as it continues. The beautiful home where the majority of the film takes place is always bathed in warm orange tones. It’s beautiful, welcoming, and the cast fills the rooms with merriment and there’s an easy, familiar affection for one another. Set against this is Will who is a long way from being ready to deal with being in the home where his family was destroyed by tragedy. We see Will flashing back to times with his son Ty, with Eden when they were together and happy. Logan Marshall-Green brilliantly portrays this man who is so deeply conflicted, so hurt by what happened in the past and still nowhere close to having grieved enough for what he has lost. All of this sadness and depression eats away at Will and that in turn leads to paranoia, to anger and resentment. But everybody else seems so at ease or jubilant even, how can they not see what he’s seeing and feeling?
There are many different ways of describing someone so overcome and absorbed by their own emotion that reality can be obscured. Let’s call it getting too far inside your own head. Will is a man clearly deeply ensconced in his own depression and grief, he looks unkempt, he can never settle down, he keeps catching hints of things that confuse and alarm him. That’s not to say that the other characters are entirely clueless, they just don’t perceive things as dramatically as Will does. Eden and David seem a little off, especially Eden, but they have also been away for two years and these are old friends who wish to give them the benefit of the doubt and be supportive. “They’re weird, but this is LA” they say. This just further fuels Will’s problems with what he perceives as going on.
It is with a deft hand that Karyn Kusama handles all of this very confidently and with a very low-key style. Outside of a couple of odd situations and awkward conversations, watch John Carroll Lynch’s brilliant scene talking about his wife, everything seems so innocuous. While a lot of horror films build tension through this sense of dread, of darkness and evil slowly closing in around our characters, here that warm orange hue never leaves. It is the lack of things to be afraid of that creates this tension. Is The Invitation holding out on us or is Will just in such a degraded mental state that he becomes an unreliable narrator? This film is reminiscent with the recently released and quite excellent They Look Like People where there’s a perceived threat but no way of knowing if anything is real.
Where they differ is They Look Like People shows a man watching normal people turn into monsters, here we are given nothing, no obvious clues as to anything that is wrong. This is where Logan Marshall-Green’s increasingly overwrought performance really works when butting heads with much more level headed and positive characters. Will’s ex-wife Eden is the polar opposite, smiling and talking about how free she has become. But has she truly recovered from tragedy or are those self-affirmations? Are those tears welling up behind that smile? Meanwhile David is more ambiguous, he seems well meaning but there’s something that suggests that he’s an alpha male type character who even goes as far as telling Will “this is my house now.” The depth of excellent performances in this film just adds wonderfully to the story. There are dozens of hints at things both very subtle and more overt, but The Invitation is not willing to hold your hand or has much interest in revealing itself to you. Even as the film ends we are still not quite sure just the scope and repercussions of what we’ve just seen could possibly be.
Saying more would begin to spoil what is an experience best served by knowing as little as possible. The Invitation is a nerve-jangling, quiet but intense film where the audience is left guessing right up until the climax of the film. A deeply psychological thriller where we follow a grieving man utterly fail to deal with the ruined tatters of his life. Highly recommended!