The Invitation (Movie Review)

The Invitation (Movie Review)
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The Invitation Movie Review Karyn Kusama Logan Marshall Green PLOT: A grieving man and his girlfriend are invited to a dinner party thrown by his ex-wife and her new husband. What appears to be an innocent gathering takes on menacing dimensions when the man begins to suspect the hosts have assembled their guests for unseemly purposes.

REVIEW:Karyn Kusama's THE INVITATION is a tough one. It's a movie I really appreciated for most of its running time; often its eerie atmosphere chilled me to the bone. I enjoyed its shadowy camerawork, its impressive range of performances, the way it hinted at ominous things just around the corner without revealing them fully. It brought to mind the works of David Lynch and Alfred Hitchcock at points, and the further into its rabbit hole I sank, the closer to the screen I leaned. But when it ultimately showed its hand, I was let down. As the credits rolled, I slumped back into my seat, disheartened with the turn of events in the finale. I can almost equate the feeling to the one I had after 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE, another movie that is splendid up until its concluding 15 minutes. For some reason, THE INVITATION's disappointing final passage stung even more.

The Invitation Movie Review Karyn Kusama Logan Marshall Green

Taking place in the Hollywood Hills of California, THE INVITATION (which has a double meaning in this case) takes place almost entirely within the confines of a lavish house, one of those sprawling L.A. numbers that are beautiful yet artificial. In the daytime it's probably a sunny, welcoming home, but at night it's foreboding, darkness pervading every hallway and empty room. Not the perfect place for Will (Logan Marshall-Green) to be, for a couple of reasons. This house used to belong to he and Eden (Tammy Blanchard) but after a tragedy befell them (one we can guess easily), Eden split and took off with David (Michiel Huisman), disappearing for two years. Now, Eden and David are back in town and holding a gathering in their big home, bringing together their most intimate group of friends. Will, clearly uncomfortable about the whole thing, has new girlfriend Kiara (Emayatzy Corinealdi) by his side to offer solace, but as soon as he steps through the entrance of his old residence it's obvious to Will - and us - something is just not right.

What initially unfolds is, on the surface, mostly a mundane evening amongst old friends: Playing catch-up, sharing familiar stories, lots of drinking and eating. Lurking around the edges of the happy affair are questions about where Eden and David have been all this time. They're different in a tangible way - Eden is all vapid smiles and lingering glances, David is friendly but appears to be hiding something. While everyone's curious about their disappearance and subsequent reemergence, Will is the only one who comes across as disdainful, agitated. As the party goes deep into the night, Will's agitation turns to something resembling fear.

Will makes for an interesting protagonist. Not immediately likable or sympathetic, he's a quietly nervous brooder who, if this were an actual party, would be the guy standing alone in the corner the other guests avoid looking at. The fact that he's our POV character and we're meant to experience the strange unfolding of THE INVITATION through his eyes adds to the growing unease the narrative gathers. As he sulks about the house, Will begins to glimpse odd little happenings: a woman making extremely awkward faces alone in a room; a conversation with just-out-of-sight strangers in the foyer; David lighting a blood red lantern in the pitch black yard. Surely these things have some ominous meaning behind them? We can assume yes, but because Will is so haunted, THE INVITATION teasingly makes us wonder if it's not just him, the damaged griever, who is out of whack, and not the vague occurrences he witnesses.

The Invitation Movie Review Karyn Kusama Logan Marshall Green

THE INVITATION does a very admirable job of maintaining this paranoid tone; as Will grows more restless, the hosts grow more suspicious. (Kusama wisely allows us to see that the other guests are often put off by their behavior as well.) When Eden and David break out a video that displays a very troubling incident involving a dying woman, the event's atmosphere turns glum and sinister. Add to that the appearance of one of Eden and David's new friends, Pruitt (John Carroll Lynch, perfect for this type of role) - who shares a memory that is most certainly not fit for a dinner party - and you have an increasingly moribund affair rife with unspoken tension.

All of this I thought was quite compelling; I was with THE INVITATION right up until the climactic dinner is served, where the mysteries of the night are bound to be disclosed in startling fashion. I recall hoping against hope that the movie wouldn't blow this; if it could stick the landing, it might very well could contend with recent horror hits like THE BABADOOK and THE WITCH as an instant classic of the genre. But my wishes went unanswered, and I found THE INVITATION's final 15 minutes to be sincerely disappointing. It's difficult to go into why without spoiling what happens, but the mysterious, quasi-surreal tone the movie had employed before was gone and now it had turned into a rather routine thriller, complete with cat-and-mouse games and stalking villains. The screenplay by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi (shockingly, the writers responsible for such titles as RIDE ALONG and THE TUXEDO) apparently is content with a predictable send-off, favoring mayhem over the quiet sense of dread that had permeated the rest of the movie.

So do I recommend THE INVITATION? The answer is still unclear even to me; even giving it a grade is a tricky task. There's so much I liked about it that it would seem crazy not to ask others to give it a chance; yet I found its conclusion so unsatisfactory that it left me feeling cold toward the film overall. Taking a glance at other reviews, it would appear the majority has spoken and the film is being showered with praise, so perhaps I'm just one of a handful who couldn't get passed (what I found to be) a seriously flawed climax. It could probably use a second viewing, one that wouldn't be saddled with high expectations. As I was entertained more than I was frustrated by it, I'll be positive.

Extra Tidbit: THE INVITATION opens today, April 8th, in limited theaters and on VOD.



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