Director: Karyn Kusama
Producers: Martha Griffin, Phil Hay, Matt Manfredi, Nick Spicer
Writers: Phil Hay, Matt Manfredi
Stars: Logan Marshall-Green, Tammy Blanchard, Michiel Huisman
Director Karyn Kusama is a force of nature cinema; in 2000, she swept film festivals—awarded at Sundance, Cannes, Deauville, Ghent International, Gotham, and Sitges—with GIRLFIGHT, the groundbreaking tale of a young girl blazing trails as a boxer and, in 2009, JENNIFER’S BODY rocked the worlds of horror fans and lesbians alike. THE INVITATION (2015) is something of a departure—most apparently, the empowered and deeply complex female protagonist typical of Kusama’s films is absent. Perhaps this absence of transgression is what makes THE INVITATION comparably dull … Kusama’s latest film is somewhat lackluster.
Will (Logan Marshall-Green) has suffered tremendously in the recent past: after his son, Ty (Aiden Lovekamp), dies in a tragic accident, his wife, Eden (Tammy Blanchard), meets another man at a grief support group and promptly divorces him for her new lover. Given all that, it’s understandable that he is loath to accept an invitation from Eden to attend a dinner party—held at their old home, where she and her lover, David (Michiel Huisman)—now her husband—live. However, with some convincing from his girlfriend, Kira (Emayatzi Corinealdi), Will agrees to give Eden and David a chance. When he arrives, Eden’s and his mutual friends are all in attendance, making themselves at home in a strange situation. What only Will seems to intuit is how strange things will become—and how dangerous.
Logan Marshall-Green’s portrayal of Will is masterful—in every gesture, he seems to convey bitterness and self-loathing, as well as the subdued fascination of watching a terrible mystery unfold. As a character, Will is a compelling balance of skepticism and self-doubt—although he is certain something sinister underlies a dinner party that already lies squarely in the realm of the bizarre, he is too twisted by guilt and grief to trust his instincts. Despair has clouded his vision, even as it seems to have clarified Eden’s. Despite Will’s dysfunction, he often seems like the sole normal person in the room, thoughtful and honest. When Eden is asked how she is, she immediately replies, “Brilliant,” while Will hesitates and then says, “I don’t know.”
Will’s emotional journey, however, is too limited to sustain the viewer’s focus. As in many horror films, character development is subordinate to action. One watches not because Will is in the heartrending position of entangling once more with an ex and their mutual friends, but because it is at first unclear why, exactly, Will—and we as viewers—are so ill at ease; however, what is at first a compelling mystery soon reveals itself to be a tired trope—and from there, the film loses much of its entertainment value. After a while, the film drags beyond the scope of believability … an hour in, one wonders why Will is still at the dinner party, where he feels endangered and has had multiple outbursts exclaiming his accusations. From there, the film is increasingly exasperating—and it resolves with what seems like misplaced sympathy for Eden and an apocalyptic last shot that doesn’t shock, but registers as dull and hollow.
I started THE INVITATION late on a weeknight, not noticing how late it was. When I glanced at the clock and saw the late hour, I resolved to turn it off and finish it some other time—but I couldn’t. It may not be the most creative film, suffering from a tired plotline and sheer predictability, but THE INVITATION is thick with suspense, and worth watching if only to see precisely how the outcome unfolds. It may not be scary, exactly, but moments of guttural horror and visceral gore do make for pleasant surprises. Despite brimming with these most mundane kinds of contradictions, THE INVITATION is a surprisingly gripping watch.