Tucked amidst Netflix’s cheaply made exorcism films and low rated teen screams is the independently produced psychological thriller The Invitation, directed by Karyn Kusama. The film stars Logan Marshall-Green as Will, a grief-stricken divorcee, and Tammy Blanchard as Eden, his ex-wife. The charisma between the cast creates a memorable and haunting experience told through a combination of flashbacks and present day.
When Will and Eden’s son passes away, the couple files for divorce and do not speak for two long years. However, Eden returns suddenly with a new husband and a new outlook on life, inviting Will and all of their old friends over for dinner. Everyone is overjoyed to be reconnected, except Will, who suspects a more sinister intent. Is he right, or will his paranoia ruin the reunion?
The Invitation is a new twist on the classic cult films, resembling the The Sacrament and the real life tragedy of the Jonestown massacre. Visually, the film is gorgeous. Set in the beautiful, dusky valleys of Hollywood Hills, a warm glow is juxtaposed with the blackness of the night. As Will goes through his old house, there are many flashbacks, which are set in light tones of gray and blue. The stark contrast between present and past helps to create an emotional dissonance between the characters.
Interestingly, the setting does very little to add to the horror/thriller genre. Rather, the responsibility rest on the characters to convey the genre. Eden and her new family are quite doll-like and, as a result, incredibly creepy. What adds to this is that no one besides Will is concerned about her strange reunion. This allows for the audience to connect with Will in his isolation and torment of being confronted with his tragic past.
The slow pace of the plot does not take away from the gripping force of the film. What keeps this story fresh is the constant inversion of what the audience suspects will happen versus what happens in the following scene. The film consistently creates a potential shock that is quickly neutralized. Everything that Will expects to happen does not materialize, creating the slow suspense needed for a climactic twist and shocking ending. It is an absolute tease, and it is absolutely worth it.
The characters are very diverse; there is a variety of races, genders, personalities, and sexualities. The common trope found in horror films wherein only the virginal and pure survive is denied in The Invitation. All characters are given an equal playing field as they battle for survival. The diversity of the characters is refreshing, especially since LGBTQ people are often excluded or stereotyped in this genre. Furthermore, all of the characters and their interactions are portrayed organically, which allows for a natural flow of events throughout the film.
This is a very well executed film. It is a gem in a genre that is often subpar. While being aesthetically pleasing, it uses techniques to create specific effects, and creates a suspenseful, well thought out plot. The characters are well developed, and successfully carry the suspense and fear throughout the film. I would absolutely recommend this film to anyone looking for a thriller, and who does not mind a longer, slow burning film.