Rising tension, ancient history and lingering devastation all rise to the surface over fine wine. Who doesn’t love a good dinner party?
Director Karyn Kusama (Aeon Flux, Jennifer’s Body, Girlfight) extends The Invitation to us in the form of an unnerving thriller, shrouded in ambiguity. As the movie begins, Will (Logan Marshall-Green) and his girlfriend Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi) are driving through the Hollywood Hills on their way to a dinner party. They arrive at the palatial home of Eden (Tammy Blanchard) and David (Michiel Huisman), where a household of longtime friends are waiting and catching up.
From the moment he steps into the house, Will is unsettled by being there. He once lived there when he was married to Eden and it all seems just a little too familiar for his liking. Will and Eden have a history and some of the revelations about their marriage will make you wonder why Will even agreed to attend the party in the first place.
While everyone is catching up, David brings out a bottle of very expensive wine and doesn’t have a problem telling anyone how expensive it is. The drinks start flowing and the awkward small talk and remember-whens commence but Will is still uncomfortable being there. He doesn’t seem to trust David and David gives him some valid reasons not to.
For a good portion of The Invitation, we are unsettled by the atmosphere but we are never sure exactly why. Is it Eden’s soft tone and too pleasant of a smile? The moody lighting set amongst the black Hollywood Hills? Maybe it’s just the idea of having to make small talk with people you haven’t seen in a few years. That’s terrifying enough for me.
Kusama even-handedly builds tension frame-by-frame throughout the movie. The only person unnerved by the party is Will and we never know if he is overreacting to being in his former home or valid in is concerns. Kusama plays an effective game of tug-o-war with the audience, which allows The Invitation to slowly creep under our skin. Given the genre, The Invitation builds to a shocking crescendo but the quiet moments are the best in this film.
The Invitation doesn’t reinvent the thriller wheel and that’s fine – it doesn’t need to. Kusama has crafted an elegant mood piece, which works much better than its more mainstream counterparts. After films like Aeon Flux or Jennifer’s Body, which many won’t remember, Kusama has created a calling card for herself, one that deserves to get her behind the camera on more projects like this. It’s about time someone adds a jolt of energy to a tired genre.
Verdict: 4 out of 5
The Invitation works best in its quiet and unsettling moments, especially when the audience isn’t sure what might be happening. We are often left in the dark, like most of the characters, which helps make the film a more involving picture.