Movie Review : The Invitation (2015)
Say what you want about Neflix, but it is one of the rare platforms to offer a leveled playing field to artists nowadays. If your movie is out there and it is good, it WILL find a viewership sooner than later. I wouldn't even have considered watching The Invitation if its newfound availability didn't earn it some insistent online buzz. Why should have I? It has a forgettable title, an nondescript and uninspiring poster and it tragically relies Logan Marshall-Green and professional what's-his-face guy John Carroll Lynch for star power. The Invitation might not know how to introduce itself to audiences, but it has something to deliver to audiences that dare pressing PLAY. Take a chance on this bad boy, faithful readers. The Invitation is more than what it seems.
The story of The Invitation is deceptively complex, but director Karyn Kusama is not exactly holding your hand throughout so you'll have to pay attention. Will (Logan Marshall-Green) and Eden (Tammy Blanchard) were happily married and parents to a young boy named Tyler (Aiden Lovekamp) until tragedy struck and took their son away. Their marriage ended up crumbling under the weight of grief, but both Will and Eden found love again in Kira (Emayatzi Corinealdi) and David (Michiel Huisman) respectively. Will and Kira (like everybody in Will's "old gang") receive an invitation to a dinner at Eden and David's house out of the blue. The very house where Will used to live with her and their son. Something's off about the entire evening and it's not long before Will starts putting two and two together.
The Invitation relies on an old Freudian theory to terrify its viewership in new and interesting ways: das unheimliche or the uncanny. The idea of the familiar, yet incongruous. The protagonists of The Invitation are all friends, but they don't know why the reasons why they're together on that particular night. When they become aware of it, they don't know how to act and when the veil is completely pulled, let's just say it doesn't the way dinners between friends usually do. If ol' Sigmund understood one thing perfectly, it's that the only thing freakier than a terrifying stranger is a friend or someone that (used to) have your complete trust turning into a complete freak while you weren't looking. That, in a nutshell, is why The Invitation is so efficient. It's been a while since a movie hasn't been so unsettling, mostly because it understands one thing most contemporary horror/thriller don't: it doesn't need to look scary to be scary. In fact, it's better when it doesn't.
The main protagonists of The Invitation are themselves terrified by existence. Adulthood has taken its toll on each of them in various ways and especially on Will and Eden, who couldn't be processing their grief any differently. Will is courageously trying to move on while acknowledging the tragedy of Tyler's death (the beard he wears in the movie symbolizes that he's become a different person. He doesn't wear it in flashbacks) as Eden is constantly trying to turn back time. Make abstraction of her own emotional pain, "letting go" of negative emotions and hosting a dinner with the circle of friends she had before it happened. I thought this contrast made the movie extremely engaging because anybody over 30 can relate to having friends with unhealthy obsessions about the past. Emotional cowardice can turn people into monsters, yet what makes The Invitation so damn intense is that you can't really blame Eden for it. She's facing an ordeal most people will never have to deal with.
The Invitation is a patient, minimalist film that can toy with viewers' patience sometimes. It doesn't feed you every answer and relies on you to fill the gaps purposely left in the narrative for you to fill. That's an old, yet efficient trick only great storytellers can pull off properly. But The Invitation rewards the patience of its viewers with a barn burner of a final twenty minutes and a beautiful, haunting final scene. Good stories are not all that hard to find nowadays if you look hard enough, but good stories with interesting endings are a scarcer commodity. Screenwriters Matt Manfredi and Phil Hay are otherwise known for horrible movies such as R.I.P.D with Ryan Reynolds and Jeff Bridges and the abysmal reboot of Clash of the Titans (and the rather charming Aeon Flux) , so the inherent quality of The Invitation leads me to believe it was their labor of love. The project they worked on late at night, after doing the hired work and contributing to the infinite landscape of garbage entertainment. That's another terrifying truth if there is one: probably every screenwriter working in Hollywood at least has one good story to tell.
So, you should seriously consider watching The Invitation. I understand its looks makes it insanely difficult to press PLAY, but you'll be glad once you did. It is a quietly efficient, sneaky and sophisticated and most likely unreplicable movie. I mean, there are probably many movies to be made about how terrifying and alienating adulthood can be, but I cannot for the life of me see this turned into a gimmick and spawning a series of sequels. No, it's not true. I could totally see how it could, but the movies it would spawn would be shitty and wouldn't carry the uncanny nature of The Invitation. It's one of these movies you probably need to be a certain age to watch because some of its finer details are only accessible if you've been pummeled by life a little bit, but it's really one of these finely crafted object which are perfect the way they are. The buzz checks out, faithful readers, The Invitation is the real deal.