Directed by | Karyn Kusama
Produced by | Phil Hay, Matt Manfredi, Martha Griffin, Nick Spicer
Written by | Phil Hay, Matt Manfredi
Starring | Logan Marshall-Green, Tammy Blanchard, Michiel Huisman, Emayatzy Corinealdi, Lindsay Burdge, Mike Doyle, Jay Larson, John Carroll Lynch
Run Time | 99 minutes
Certificate | G*
* Netflix’s certificate. It does not yet seem to be rated by the BBFC. All Kusama’s previous works fall into the ‘15’ certificate and, given the content, I would assume that that is actually what it would get.
Plot | What starts as a gathering of friends, reuniting after a period of grief, turns into the dinner party from hell.
Review | The Invitation is the latest film from promising director Karyn Kusama (Girlfight, Aeon Flux, Jennifer’s Body). It is a taut, slow burn psychological piece, and one best viewed with as little of payoff spoiled as possible.
The set-up is simple enough; Will (Marshall-Green) and his girlfriend Kira (Corinealdi) are invited to a dinner party with a group of friends, hosted by Will’s ex- Eden (Blanchard) and her new fella David (Huisman).
Early on, it is revealed to the audience that Will and Eden suffered the tragic loss of a child some years before. At the dinner party, the contrast in Will and Eden’s respective frame of minds is quite apparent. Will looks like he has the weight of the world on his shoulders, whereas Eden seems to have managed to let it all go. Grief, and how it is handled, is a central theme and talking point throughout.
It should be noted that a lot of the above, while not obtuse, is gleaned through a series of naturalistic conversations punctuated by the occasional, poignant flashback. This is a film that treats its audience like an adult – nothing is one hundred percent black and white, and ambiguity rules.
The Invitation is a patient film and is for a similarly patient viewer. While things start out as a quirky, awkward dinner party (with, possibly, hints of Woody Allen or Richard Linklater knocking around), there is a casual ramping up of tension as Will becomes more and more agitated with the situation he finds himself in. His hackles are noticeably raised by the arrival of David’s acquaintances Sadie (Lindsay Burge) and Pruitt (the incomparable John Carroll Lynch). Neither of the pair knows the group of friends, bar Eden and David. The oddity of inviting a seemingly ill-suited pair of randomers to the gathering sets Will on edge, and is a trigger point for the back half of the film.
There is little to criticise The Invitation for. On the whole, the casting is strong. Besides Marshall-Green and Lynch, there’s a strong support performance from Blanchard – though no one really underperforms. The script has a naturalistic feel to it and is relatively tight. There is a slight contrivance in the first two thirds to get pairs of characters to go off together for private conversations, but it’s done well enough and most of these diversions at least add to the background and the events that have led us to this point.
The Verdict | The Invitation is a tense ride with a good payoff. A film to unerve rather than outright scare, this will stay with you longer than any token slasher film ever will.