We are at the halfway point of our K-O-Ween 31 Days of Halloween feature and today we will be looking at The Invitation.. There is the potential for confusion here. There was another movie called The Invitation released just a few weeks ago. We did actually review that one as well so click the link to check it out. As far as horror movies go, however, the two films couldn’t be more different.
Directed by Karyn Kusama, The Invitation is a slow burn, drama heavy, horror. Taking a fair while to get going, this is probably not a movie for everyone. To be honest, I am not entirely sure how I feel about it. The Invitation is quite an unusual horror movie, however, and variety is the spice of life so let’s take a look. As always, I’ll give a quick breakdown of the movie’s plot. Feel free to skip this if you like and move on to the bulk of the review.
We are reviewing a horror movie a day for the entirety of October 2022 leading up to Halloween. Most of these reviews will be shorter and more straight to the point than my standard format. We will feature a range of movies from horror classics to international hits and a few indie darlings. You can check out the entire K-O-Ween feature by clicking right here.
We kick off The Invitation with couple Will, played by Logan Marshall-Green, and his girlfriend Kira, played by Emayatzy Corinealdi, driving to a party hosted by Will’s ex-wife Eden. A little exposition reveals that Will and Eden had a son called Ty who was killed in a birthday pinata accident….. No, seriously… a pinata accident!! Eden has since met a new man, David played by Michiel Huisman, through a grief support group. The pair have spent some time together in Mexico but have now returned and want to host a party to bring an old group of friends back together.
The couple hit a Coyote on the road delaying their arrival. When they finally get there, most of the guests have already arrived. Gina excuses her boyfriend, Choi, who has is yet to turn up despite being typically punctual. Eden welcomes Will to the party and introduces him to Sadie, played by Lindsey Burdge. Sadie is someone the new couple met at their Mexican support group and now lives with them. Shortly after Pruitt, another friend of the couple, arrives.
Having not seen Eden for two years, Will seems as though he is struggling. He wanders around the house recalling memories from his previous life with Eden and Ty. We learn that Eden attempted suicide but was stopped by Will. Noticing that David has locked the door and taken the key, Will challenges him and asks him to unlock it. David claims there have been a series of home invasions but he will leave the key in the door to pacify Will.
Eden and David gather everyone in the lounge. They tell the guests about a group they have joined called the Invitation. The group shares a belief that grief is a feeling that people don’t need to experience.. Grief and negative feelings should be worked through and transformed into positive energy. They show a video from the leader of the group that shows a young woman being comforted in her final moments.
The friends, feeling somewhat unsettled, question the motives of the group. A few point out the cult like nature of the message. Hoping to lighten the mood, David suggests they all play a game of “I want”. When Pruitt’s turn comes around, he explains where his grief came from. His wife and him were drunk and had an argument, he snapped and hit her, she fell and hitting her head and dying instantly. Pruitt was sent to prison for involuntary manslaughter. He has forgiven himself and explains that the Invitation group can help everyone there forgive themselves and become happier.
Feeling Perturbed by the game and the revelations, Claire, played by Marieh Delfino, decides to leave. The group attempt to convince her to stay but she refuses. Pruitt sees her out as he has to move his car. Will watches on suspiciously as Claire leaves. Pruitt moves his car, Claire begins to drive away but, before she can leave, Pruitt flags her down. Will becomes increasingly suspicious at Eden’s seemingly bizarre and altered behaviour. He does not trust the motivations of David and seeks to find out what is going on.
The Invitation is a very slow moving movie. To say there is not a lot of action for the first two thirds would be an understatement. The plot is left to develop and there is no rush to get anywhere. This will, obviously, put a few people off. The Invitation falls squarely into the barely a horror category. There is a definite ominous tension throughout, however, which keeps you unsettled. The similarities between the actions of the party’s host and those of well known cult cases will likely put you on edge, as well.
This is a fairly diverse group and they all have varying reactions to the message David and Eden are trying to send. Some react with confusion while others are more accepting of the couple’s new found belief. They all seem, primarily, focused on having a good time and not worrying too much about what is going on. This would be frustrating were it not for Will.
Will is, essentially, the main character and acts as a sort of an avatar for the viewer. He has the same suspicions that you will likely have and approaches the situation in much the same way the viewer would. He is confused with some of the groups acceptance of David and Eden’s message and doesn’t trust them.
Although the Invitation group is not presented as a definite cult, the difference in Eden is marked and fuels Will’s suspicion. Indeed, Cults are known to target people suffering from grief so the suspicion is well founded. This is an interesting way of approaching things. You are so used to yelling at a horror movie protagonist for being blind to the obvious. Will is the total opposite of this and that is what keeps you engaged in The Invitation.
The story is genuinely engaging from start to finish. There aren’t too many horror movies that play out in the way that The Invitation does and I really like that. It offers The Invitation a somewhat unique place among horror movies. It definitely tries to do things a bit different and there aren’t a whole lot of movies like it. The self contained location and almost real time nature of the movie means things progress pretty quickly. We have to fit in a whole bunch of exposition and actual story progression into a relatively short space of time. Kusama does this through flashbacks and moments of quiet contemplation. It is very compelling and keeps your attention throughout.
The house is used as a vessel to transport Will, and the viewer, back to the past to confront his grief. With this being the first time Will has been to the house in two years he has to deal with these feelings at the same time as addressing his suspicions with Eden. It’s a nice dynamic that works well. There are some interesting filmmaking techniques used to illustrate Will’s mental fragility and slow unravelling.
The manner in which Will’s suspicions develop is also very well done. He picks up on subtle clues and things that don’t make sense. We are to assume he knows Eden better than anyone and can tell all is not as it seems. Will sees things the viewer may pick up on and this creates an interesting viewer to character dynamic. Many of the camera shots place us in the room at seat level to make us feel as though we are there as a guest. Suspense builds gradually and there are enough twists and turns to keep you guessing as to what is really going on.
The Invitation, for me, is a difficult film to review. I do enjoy the premise and the way the movie plays out is fantastic. I think it is a genuinely decent horror movie. There are, however, a couple of issues that proved to be fairly significant and impacted my enjoyment. I think these issues are probably more of a personal thing than a general one. I just found a few things to be somewhat annoying and ended up focusing on them a little too much.
There had been quite a gap between me originally watching The Invitation for the first time and watching it again for this review. I had completely forgotten how much I hated nearly everyone in it. All of that came rushing back to me about 20 minutes into the film. The group consists of a bunch of middle 30s, self obsessed, upper class assholes. I don’t know if I was supposed to be able to relate to any of these characters but I sure as shit didn’t. I felt the setting, as well, was a little strange. Setting the movie in a place that only a small number of people could even imagine living in was an odd move. I feel it alienates the viewer slightly. Maybe that is by design but I didn’t feel as though that was the case.
The Invitation takes place in the Hollywood Hills and features a cast of people who are, frankly, difficult to relate to. I am sure friend groups like this exist but it doesn’t make them any easier to like. As a collection of characters, they are privileged, self important, and entirely unlikeable. They come across as very prosthetic and fake. Their reactions to each other are, at times, bizarre and almost always histrionic. Maybe this is deliberate? They remind me of slasher movie fodder waiting to be killed off to the glee of the viewer.
It’s as if a person who makes movies for Hollywood has a similar friend group and thought they would be relatable to normal people. A group of people hanging out in an area with an average house price of $2.5 million is unrelatable for most of us. On top of this, the characters are very underdeveloped which makes them even more difficult to care about.
Due to the lack of character development, interactions are unnatural. Everything seems very rehearsed and by the numbers. I feel as though allowing the actors to improvise a little would have helped lend a sense of intimacy between the characters. As it stands, there is a noticeable sitcom feeling to the line delivery. Characters wait for each other to finish speaking before they talk. There is no shouting over each other or chaotic interacting that is normal between a group of friends.
Gina, played by Michelle Krusiec, is fairly annoying and often decides to use volume in place of character nuance. Miguel and Tommy are given virtually no personality beyond being unfortunate wine loving stereotypes the likes of which Modern Family would be proud of. Ben is an obnoxious and loud everyman who seems as though he wouldn’t fit in at all with this group and Kira is practically mute.
The worst offender, however, is Eden, played by Tammy Blanchard. I found Eden to be very annoying. I don’t know if she is playing the role for creepiness or what but her performance made my toes curl. Her over the top affection for everyone and the bizarre manner in which she talks is either masterful acting or the complete opposite. I really disliked every scene that she was heavily featured in.
Everyone else is so underdeveloped that it is hard to care. Sadie seems like a facsimile of a character you would see in a Tarantino movie. Think Bridget Fonda in Jackie Brown. Pruitt has no seeming connection with anyone, even the two people who apparently invited him, and he doesn’t seem to fit in. David is about as by the numbers a character as you will find in a horror movie. And Claire, despite being the only likeable one of the entire group of friends, is too smart to stick around with these obnoxious butt-puckers and heads off home.
Logan Marshall-Green, as Will, does a fantastic job and is the highlight of the movie. His voicing of what the viewer is likely thinking is excellent. You rarely see a character in a horror movie that is so aware of the bizarreness of his situation. You genuinely believe his pain and you actually sympathise with him as a character. Will and his unique approach to a horror movie scenario is what makes The Invitation such a compelling watch despite its flaws.
The final 20 minutes of The Invitation are a lot of fun. The commitment to the slow burn pays off with some excellent tension and culminates in something of an explosion. It’s a very satisfying way to finish up and the final shot should be up there with some of the most iconic horror movie moments ever. Some people will dislike the switch in tone in the last 20 minutes I am sure but it certainly leaves a lasting impression.
The Invitation is a decent thriller/horror movie with a compelling plot that keeps you engaged right up until the explosive end. Well paced despite its slow burn nature, the story progressing in a satisfying manner and helps keep the viewer interested throughout.
A somewhat unlikeable cast and a setting that many will not relate to may make it difficult for some viewers to actually care about the characters. There are also a few plot holes here and there. These are fairly minor issues, however. The Invitation is still a fantastic horror movie well worth checking out, if only for the last 20 minutes.