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The Invitation

***
2015

‘…an effective pot-boiler that whittles down the numbers to a predictable punch-line…’

A buried nugget in the Netflix stew, The Invitation is a fairly conventional slow-burn mystery that hits a number of familiar plot-points. We’re trapped in one location for most of the time, as the characters begin to wonder about the motives of their host, as in Festen. We even have the protagonist hit an animal with his car, accidentally, as a way of foreshadowing the bloodletting to come. These are genre tropes, to be sure, but Karyn Kusama’s film has more to offer in terms of tension than most.

Kusama’s career had a couple of potentially catastrophic failures early on with Aeon Flux and Jennifer’s Body, but The Invitation is very much a back-to-basics horror/thriller. Logan Marshall Green is Will, who unwisely takes his new girlfriend to a weekend retreat (with no phone signal, of course) that his ex Eden (Tammy Blanchard) will be present at. Party games ensue, with a gradual realisation that a cult are in operation, but is Will imagining something worse than just typical LA gamesmanship?

The Invitation takes a good hour before it gets to conventional stalk-and-slash territory, but some of the best material comes from that slow drip of paranoia. When one guest attempts to leave early, Will watches from a window, his view obscured at the vital moment that would tell him that she’s escaped. Similarly, Will’s attempt to confront the group about his missing friend Troy is mis-timed, and his rage is deflated when his friend arrives late; true paranoia is when you doubt everyone’s motives, including your own. Kusama’s cast are game, and even if they lack movie-star presence, it’s an effective pot-boiler that whittles down the numbers to a predicable punch-line.

Kusama’s Nicole Kidman detective vehicle Destroyer didn’t find much awards traction, but I thought it was fairly gripping; at least there’s plenty of recent evidence that she’s shrugged off her big-budget studio disappointments. The Invitation isn’t as imaginative as Coherence, or as dramatic and serious as Festen, but in terms of getting Kusama back on track, it’ll do. And for casual viewers on Netflix, there’s enough meat on the bones to make this worth a watch.

https://www.netflix.com/title/80048977

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      • I think that Hollywood misses the mark with movies like Ivanxtc because they are merely trying to copy what Tolstoy did without his underlying theology and the philosophy arising from said theology. (I call philosophy the working out of my theology). So while they can copy the outward show, because they don’t share the same foundation, what they’re expressing is at best belittling and at worst a complete waste and misrepresentation.

        • Agree with this; I would say this film would be the exception that proves that your rule is true. They creatively find analogues for Tolstoy’s work that reflect his purpose, not his style.

          • And that very change of style is what I would find off putting.

            Also, you mention the nihilism. Tolstoy wasn’t nihilistic. But he did try to show in his works that life was empty and meaningless without God. From what I gather here, hollywood has taken half his message and run with it.

            • So here’s what I don’t mind about what you describe. Tolstoy will stay Tolstoy, but riffing on Tolstoy creates something different, and might lead people to the text. I think this film exaggerates his suggestion that life is empty and takes it to the nth degree. But that’s a creative choice.

  1. Excellent review for this one. I’ll add it to my watchlist too now. Do you ever venture into international territory (movies in other languages)? I recently saw The Wailing (2016), a Korean horror movie and it was phenomenal! Complex (or complicated/confusing, depending on the viewer) and brilliantly built-up while inspired by other Hollywood classics/tropes. I’d recommend it to you if you’re looking for a solid horror movie to pick up.

  2. My Dinner with Andre this was not…The Last Supper or a horror slow burn Big Chill is more of what this dark meal was about. Julia C would not have approved. My YIKES meter yipped when the protag killed the coyote with a tire iron. Was this gonna be about tech over nature or was it a trickster intro to Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? I detected a soupcon of Osage County and hoped there would be deep reveals about grief and philosophy. Nope…the red lantern image was odd–red lanterns depict good luck in China, although in Raise the Red Lantern, their presence was deceitful…then there’s a Marvel comics Red Lantern group that leaves a lingering odor of rot only assuaged by a trip to a Red Lantern tavern… Good acting but afterwards, I wanted to Purge, no wait, that’s another horror show–feeling more real in 2020.

    • Absolutely, this isn’t a rave, but a cautious recommend as a time-passer. Big Chill and Last Supper are favorites of mine, but this is a fairly pale imitation. But in B movie style, there are some moments that stick…but deeper philosophical means are evasive here, and the final is rote race-and-chase in an empty house…nice try though!

      • Despite its daftness, I have rewatched the Big Chill many times, ditto for Arthur (for laughs), The English Patient for romance/angst, my Dinner with Andre to prod the grey cells, and Out of Africa to visit a far away treasure of a place. Your wide range of reviews has opened up so many new places, ideas, and possibilities!

  3. Well…buried nugget or not, this one already is in my Netflix list, as it was mentioned and pointed out to me by a few others as well. As usual it’s still buried in my own pile of things to watch, but it does sound like a pretty decent movie!😀

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