Invitation, The (2015)
★★★ / ★★★★
The independent thriller “The Invitation,” written by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, excels in building and complementing the requisite tension and slow as molasses pacing prior to the reveal as to what is really going on. It is the kind of movie best undertaken with minimal exposure to its plot and premise because just about every detail counts.
Simply know that there is a dinner party hosted by Eden (Tammy Blanchard), along with her new husband (Michiel Huisman), and it is meant to be a reunion among old friends. They have not seen each other in two years. Her ex-husband, Will (Logan Marshall-Green), is also invited. They had a young son whose death triggered the end of their marriage. Soon Will begins to suspect that is something wrong with the dinner party.
With a dialogue-heavy first half, it is required that the characters are interesting and equipped with specific, defined personalities. The picture is quick to establish a sense of familiarity and camaraderie; we get a real impression that they are aware of each other’s histories rather than simply having a dozen actors sharing the same space and uttering lines. Each of them is given a chance to say or do something memorable.
As the story moves forward, we, too, become suspicious not only alongside Will but also of him. Clearly still grieving over the death of his son, the house triggers a lot painful memories, thoughts, and emotions. Because the screenplay is efficient in getting us to the point where we must question everything we are hearing, seeing, and feeling, is it possible that since we are experiencing the plot mainly through Will’s eyes, his mind is fractured and that is why we, too, are becoming to get paranoid? And if he really is a reliable conduit, what is the explanation when it comes to the strange details he notices around the house?
Director Karyn Kusama shoots and directs the film with an air of detachment. Although we get to know the characters, whether it be through a game in which they confess a personal story or through normal, every day conversations over drinks, the approach is never intimate. We learn tidbits about them but we never relate—at least not all that deeply. So, we never fully invest in them—which, I think, is the point because somewhere in the back of our minds, something suspect or sinister is lurking just underneath the pleasantries.
I wished, however, that Kusama decided to hold back on employing flashbacks and hallucinations. Although there are not too many of them, and the director gets a chance to play with different lighting and awkward camera angles, they are enough to disrupt the momentum at times. There is a subtle way to communicate trauma or grief without relying on such tropes—which is found so often in bad horror pictures.
The material would have been much stronger, and fresher, if Marshall-Green had been instructed to come up with a specific set of behaviors—which do not necessarily have to be odd or stand out to such an extent that it becomes obvious Will is damaged in some way—to convey his inner turmoil. The likes of Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones, Patricia Clarkson are masters when it comes to taking on such a technique. By embracing more dramatic elements, this already satisfying mystery-thriller might have been improved noticeably.