Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 40 minutes
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Directed by: Karyn Kusama
Written by: Phil Hay & Matt Manfredi
Starring: Logan Marshall-Green, Tammy Blanchard, Michiel Huisman, Emayatzy Corinealdi, Lindsay Burdge, Jordi Vilasuso, Mike Doyle & John Carroll Lynch
I’ve been hearing rumbles about THE INVITATION for over a year now. Despite the film showing at many festivals and gaining plenty of positive buzz along the way, I had managed to keep myself in the dark about the film’s plot. A lot of THE INVITATION’s entertainment and scare factor come from suffocating suspense and plenty of brilliant twists and turns. If you enjoy slow-burns, then you’ll likely dig this nerve-wracking horror-thriller. Seeing as the less you know going in, the better this film is, I’ll be keeping this review very vague, relatively short, and spoiler free.
Meet Will. He’s received an invitation to a fancy dinner party among friends and acquaintances who he hasn’t seen in two years. The hosts of this party are Eden, Will’s ex-wife, and David, her new husband. The location is Will’s old home. To make things even more awkward, Eden and David seem a bit strange and reveal that a recent trip to Mexico might have something to do with it. Are there sinister motives behind this dinner party…or is the mentally distressed Will losing his mind?
What immediately sets THE INVITATION apart from other recent horror films and the “horrible dinner party” subgenre is the sheer emotion injected into these characters and the proceedings. We are given windows into Will’s psyche through carefully placed flashbacks that give us just enough information without going overboard into shameless exposition territory. We are also thrown into a position where we have to sympathize with Will, no matter what, because the dinner party is definitely weird from the get-go. However, there’s always an undeniable possibility that Will might be a man pushed onto the edge of madness. Many scenes can be read in two different ways, thus keeping the viewer on the edge of their seat…until we get the shocking realization of what has actually been happening in a chilling finale that won’t soon be forgotten.
Logan Marshall-Green takes center stage as Will. Besides looking like a grizzled skinnier version of Tom Hardy, Green delivers a knockout performance that had me constantly concerned about whether he was losing his grip on reality or if he should be suspicious of his ex-wife’s odd get-together. Tammy Blanchard is fantastic as Eden and walks the line between quirky and creepy, feeding perfectly into the film’s constantly shifting suspenseful tone. Michiel Huisman is equally great as David. Emayatzy Corinealdi, Jordi Vilasuso, Mike Doyle, Jay Larson, and Michelle Krusiec comprise Will’s former friends/other party guests. Lindsay Burdge is both comical and potentially dangerous as Eden’s weird new friend. John Carroll Lynch excels at being intimidating in any role and his character here is no different.
I was on the edge my seat for THE INVITATION’s entire running time. The insane level of suspense worked magically the whole way through. This movie also got a lot of vocal reactions out of me (especially during the final third) and has been running nonstop circles through my mind since I watched it. THE INVITATION is easily one of the most effective horror films that I’ve seen in years and capitalizes on a Hitchcockian less-is-more approach, while also deriving tension out of polite conversations, bad manners, and awkward situations. Seemingly mundane scenarios become absolutely terrifying within the confines of this film. To cap it all off, a great atmospheric soundtrack, slick visual style, and carefully handled direction polish the whole affair into a perfect tension-filled experience. If you like being scared and enjoy slow-burns, then know that they don’t get much better than this haunting little masterpiece!