I went into The Invitation almost completely blind. I knew that it was a Drafthouse Film, and I knew that it had received a lot of positive buzz. That was about it. Honestly, I feel it’s best to go into this film completely blind, because the tension in this film is so palpable, especially since I had no idea where this film was going to go.
The Invitation is a thriller film focused on Will (Logan Marshall-Green) and his group of friends who have lost contact with one another for two years. They are invited to a mysterious dinner party by Will’s ex-wife Eden (Tammy Blanchard). Will is hesitant about the party, but elects to come with his new girlfriend Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi). At the party, Will suspects something is wrong, and events only spiral out of control from there.
I really can’t say much else about the plot without spoiling it, I really think it’s best to go into this movie blind. Doing so helped put me into the mind space of Will, as I felt myself second guessing every odd event that occurred. Will has these seeds of doubt planted in his mind throughout the film, yet many of his suspicions are clearly proven to be unfounded, and by extension, the viewer’s expectations of the plot progression are subverted. It’s never clear if what Will is experiencing is actually peculiar, or if it’s due to his own traumatically distorted perspective.
The way director Karyn Kusama plays with and exploits the viewer’s expectations is masterfully done. There is a scene where a minor character walks outside alone to her car in hopes of escaping what is to come at Eden’s house, and she is followed by a large, creepy man. In any other thriller/horror film, she would be shown either being murdered or about to be murdered before a dramatic cut, just as the viewer would expect. In The Invitation, Kusama knows that that would be too easy. She instead films this scene from Will’s point of view as he watches her from a window until the pair leaves his sight. The viewer is left as much in the dark as Will is, and it’s never revealed to him what transpired, which helps to play into his paranoia.
Kusama employs various vague flashbacks that hint at Will and Eden’s previous life, and it’s often disorienting and jarring, yet it works within the context of the film. We are experiencing these flashbacks from Will’s perspective, who’s mind space is already pretty warped, so the dissonant way they occur are oddly fitting and help give depth to his relationship with Eden.
The Invitation contains a larger cast of about 10 characters. In a typical horror film, the majority of these characters would simply be cannon fodder to be killed, with focus given to maybe one or two main characters. While Will is without a doubt the main character in The Invitation, the each member of the cast is given at least one moment to shine as well. Kusama does such a great job balancing all these characters that when things began to go south, I was actually emotionally invested in most of them, which is impressive. While not all of them had fleshed out character arcs necessarily, I still cared about what happened to them.
Logan Marshall-Green does a great job acting the part of a broken man, trying his best to put on a normal facade for everyone. You can feel the pain beneath his words every time he speaks, and that helps you buy into the paranoia he experiences. He’s quite and subdued, but you can tell that there is a lot more going on with Will then he lets on.
Emayatzy Corinealdi’s portrayal of Eden is unsettling, and enough to keep you on edge. You feel like she is constantly about to snap into a fit of rage, but is able to channel that anger into positive energy. It’s this really interesting dynamic that she has with other characters that help make her character (and her performance) work. Michiel Huisman plays Eden’s new boyfriend, David. He is as equally unnerving as Eden, but Huisman’s performance brings a weird mixture of charisma to the character. He plays him in a way that makes David out to be a genuinely nice guy, to the point that he would stab you whilst keeping a friendly smile. Overall the entire cast is solid, but I thought these three were the standouts.
I felt uncomfortable and on edge for almost the entire duration of the film, and it’s mainly due to Kusama’s fantastic directing. She does a marvelous job building tension throughout the film. The way tension arises feels so natural and subtle, due to how well she utilizes the characters of Eden and David, making them out to be overly happy and overly inviting, with a hint of ominousness. While this alone can build tension, it’s the way that she plays with character dynamics that makes it really effective.
While Will is suspicious of the couple for the entirety of the film, the rest of the cast spend a tremendous amount of time to try and rationalize their behavior. Everyone else notices something is off with them as well, but ignore and suppress it so they can enjoy the reunion with their friends. It’s this denial that the characters exhibit that gives this lingering feeling of dread and helps you experience the anxiety that Will has. And this tension keeps building and build throughout the film until it’s explosive finale. And boy, is it explosive.