These days it's been hard to find time to write much, but when you see something extraordinary you have to find the time! Recently I'd been hearing a lot of hype about The Invitation
- on social media and genre websites, etc. Generally I am wary of hype because it is usually just that. But I took a chance on this indie thriller and believe me when I say it will get under your skin and haunt you afterward. It's not a film that showcases a lot of violence or gore, doesn't have an A-list cast and is as understated as they come, but The Invitation is the best creep-fest I've seen all year.
Will (a superb Logan Marshall-Green) and Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi) are driving into the Hollywood Hills area on their way to a party hosted by Will's ex-wife Eden (Tammy Blanchard) in their former home together. Will is visibly on edge, harboring a weird sense of anxiety that comes from not having seen Eden in quite some time. Kira tries to talk him out of going but he presses on. There is a jolt of reality when they hit a coyote along the road and Will is forced to humanely euthanize the creature by using a tire iron (mostly off-screen, thankfully). It's an unlikely event that we immediately want to tuck away in our memory for later - because it really seems important to the plot. But will it be? Or is it just a red herring?
Immediately upon arrival at the home, it is blatantly obvious that something is just not cricket. Eden's new husband David (Michiel Huisman) welcomes them with open arms but makes sure Will knows it is now "his house". He ushers them into the living room where a group of Will and Eden's friends have also gathered. Eden appears and the conversation turns to how she and David have returned from Mexico with a new lease on life and explains how in touch with their emotions they are after spending time with a group geared towards grief management. No sadness! No anger! No guilt! David goes on to introduce his friends Pruitt (John Carroll Lynch) and Sadie (Lindsay Burdge), who have also been to Mexico for this revelatory spiritual experience. It's all a little too new age for Will and though uncomfortable and perhaps a bit paranoid, he agrees to stay and have dinner. It's very apparent that the ghosts of the past have Will battling old demons - Will and Eden's young son died in a tragic accident at the house and Will is still fighting those emotions, heightened by his return to the house they shared.
After being shown a video (which should instantly raise a red flag in my book) in which a woman is dying and is surrounded by gentle folks who urge her to accept her fate and die peacefully on her own terms, the rest of the dinner guests are also visibly shaken when they watch her take her last breath.
Soon, talk turns to playing a game of "I want", in which Eden plants an awkward, much-too-long kiss on mutual friend Ben. Pruitt then wraps his "I want" into an unsettling story about how he "accidentally" killed his wife - but it's okay, because the program - called The Invitation - helped him get rid of all his guilt and move past it. This shocks everyone and leads one of their friends, Claire, to leave. Will, his inner sense of pending doom on overdrive, tries to make sure Claire leaves okay after Pruitt follows her out, claiming he parked her in.
Amping up the tension is the fact that David has been locking the door behind everyone who enters, there are actually bars on the windows, and one of their friends, Choi, has never arrived - despite a voice mail that Will received from him stating he was already there and had forgotten the dessert - could Will pick it up on his way? All of the unrest ends up with Will having a bit of a freak-out, demanding to know where Choi is. Kira tries to get Will to leave with her but he's not having it, certain that David and Eden are up to something sinister and are trying to recruit the others into their "cult". Unfortunately, Will's suspicions are short-lived when everyone is relieved to see Choi arrive, having been called back to work and been detained. Everyone subsequently assumes Will is just having a hard time dealing with seeing Eden and the house again due to his past trauma. But Will may be on to something here....he knows it, and we as the audience certainly
This film is such a slow burn that some may find it off-putting. But that is the whole of what is fantastic about it. With understated performances (none of this Manson Family type of ridiculousness, save for the character of Sadie - she's the token nut-job more than happy to drink the Kool-Aid they're handing out and is an obvious ode to Susan Atkins) and palpable tension mounting throughout, it's the kind of movie that nearly has one cheering by the final act. Will's vindication of his spidey-sense telling him something is "off " makes up for any kind of wait we are forced to happily suffer through. In every sense of the word, this feels like an "adult" horror film - something that perhaps only those over say, 30, will be equal parts captivated and terrified by. Once you've been out in the world for a while, you can feel a darker edge to society, a fear
of what's really going on - or perhaps we're always waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Director Karyn Kusama keeps us all on edge and full of dread with her fine-tuning and attention to detail. Her choice for the score is another win, as Theodore Shapiro (whose score for Ghostbusters 2016 will likely bring much more acclaim than this little indie could, sadly) has created a creepy and emotional score to mesh together all the emotions of fear, anxiety and downright quiet terror that this film pushes on us. I readily anticipate more from both in the future.
Lastly, I can't praise Logan Marshall-Green enough in his performance as Will. The whole film rests on his shoulders and he is fantastic. He is the "me" character, as in his feelings and actions would absolutely mirror mine - immediately thinking something is just not right, and sticking with his gut feeling right up till the end. We're forced to go along with the dinner guests at times, thinking perhaps Will is just too sensitive, too scarred to be thinking clearly. But we should always follow our instincts. They rarely hand us over to the demon. They give us the clarity of mind to fight it.