THE INVITATION (2016)

THE INVITATION (2016)

Directed by Karyn Kusama

Starring Logan Marshall-Green, Michael Huisman, Tammy Blanchard, Emayatzy Corinealdi

**1/2

A man (Logan Marshall-Green) returns for a dinner party, to the house of his now ex-wife after a two year absence that followed a personal tragedy. During the course of the evening he begins to suspect that his wife and her new husband’s methods of coping with their afflictions may be sinister.

Taking place in a twilight-zone version of the Hollywood Hills; THE INVITATION would probably make a nice 2016 double feature with 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE – even more so than the film the latter is tangentially related to. The film plays out for the first 80 minutes as a commentary on grief and the unbearable toll it takes, not too different than all the non-nightmare inducing scenes of Jennifer Kent’s 2014 film THE BABADOOK; before rather swiftly disposing of the metaphorical story-telling for sheer visceral thrills. 

There's something not quite right with the details of the host-couple's trip to Mexico and the new found friends they brought back with them. As Will's (Logan Marshall Green) paranoia starts convincing him he may be at the den of a cult, director Karyn Kusama begins to ratchet up the tension. When the horrors of what's really going on start revealing themselves, I was made to wish Kusama had trusted her audience a little bit more. It probably was not necessary to cast the Zodiac killer himself (John Carroll Lynch) as the suspicious and unfamiliar party guest – his character’s backstory and behavior alone are enough for us not to trust this guy at the outset. The insidious proceedings during the course of the dinner party made it hard for me to swallow that the other guests think Will’s suspicions are the result of personal psychological trauma; even before everything goes batshit. The other party guest’s have some subdued reactions to behavior and events that even the most trusting of friends would find appalling. If I am ever at a party where a strange man regales the guests about the new type of advanced therapy he utilizes to get over the loss of his wife, a victim of manslaughter at his hands no less; I am probably reaching for my coat shortly thereafter.

The film is elegantly photographed, with interiors that glow as if lit by candlelight. The eery dimness washes away all sunshine and glamour typically associated with houses in the Santa Monica mountains. As we navigate each hallway with Will, our anxiety and paranoia builds alongside his, eventually cresting with an eruption of macabre during the last 20 minutes. Even if you find some story and character elements illogical, it's tough not to get enraptured by the sheer dread behind each corner and each interaction. 

I do wish Kusama had left more to our imagination with respect to the host-couple's plans for their guests, but as a thriller THE INVITATION is quite effective. Its atmosphere so eerie and memorable that I locked my window when I went to sleep the night I watched it (I live on the 4th floor...).  The finale at first devolves a bit from the creepy psychological horror of the first couple acts, but redeems itself with a haunting final shot that would be right at home concluding one of Rod Serling's tales. 

THE INVITATION is now available for rent on iTunes & Amazon Video. It is also playing in Brooklyn at Nitehawk Cinema and on Manhattan at the IFC Center. Watch the trailer here