by Patrick Bromley
If you plan to see The Invitation -- and you should see The Invitation -- try to know as little about it as possible going in. Don't watch the trailer below. Come back and read this review after you've seen it. I'll still be here.
This is not because The Invitation is a movie of twists, necessarily. The things that are revealed are not surprises. Instead, it is a movie of dread and tension, more effective if you genuinely don't know where it's going. Because that's becoming more and more difficult to do in the days of multiple trailer premieres and social media conversation, it seems right to offer a heads up.
Prometheus' whiniest scientist Logan Marshall Green plays Will, who, as the film opens, is headed with his new girlfriend Kira (Emaytazy Corinealdi) to a dinner party at the home of his ex-wife Eden (Tammy Blanchard) and her new husband David (Michiel Huisman). Surrounded by a group of their friends and a couple of unfamiliar faces, Will has to face tragedy in his past and the uncertainty of what the night has in store for everyone.
I don't want to say more about the plot of the film for those of you who continued reading despite my protestations. Like a lot of horror movies set during dinner parties, not everyone's motivations for being there are entirely altruistic -- or are they? One of the really nice touches of the film is just how long it's willing to keep the audience guessing as to what's actually happening, even question the reliability of Will's perspective as the default protagonist. Director Karyn Kusama guides every scene into an uncomfortable place, framing shots in such a way so as to be either innocent or ominous, layering in sound and music that is sometimes incongruous to what's happening on screen to constantly keep the viewer off balance. We're never sure if we can believe our eyes and our ears in The Invitation, or even if we ought to. Like 10 Cloverfield Lane from several weeks back, this is one of best-directed thrillers of the year. The pacing is much different -- it's engineered not to keep us on the edge of our seats but to create a pit in our stomachs -- but the construction is masterful, the photography gorgeous, the writing literate and intelligent.
If I don't quite connect to The Invitation as much as some other recent indie horror films it's only because it feels slightly less personal than the movies with which I've fallen totally in love. It's a movie that almost demands that we remain outside of it somewhat, observing it objectively because we're unsure which subjectivity we can trust -- we're not even sure if "hero" Will can be trusted. Again, this is a testament to the movie's construction, successfully achieving that which it sets out to do. Kusama is a gifted, idiosyncratic filmmaker whose work has been consistently interesting even when it's mismanaged by the Hollywood system. Seeing her finally get to make such an assured and emotionally rich film -- one that's her movie, free of baggage and interference -- is truly rewarding.
The Invitation is currently playing in limited release and on VOD and iTunes from Drafthouse Films.