The Invitation reminds me a lot of last year’s great suspense thriller The Gift. Besides the unassuming titles; both take place in LA suburbs, revolve around the reunion of old friends; and you want to go into both of them knowing as little as possible. Masterfully crafted, this film catches you off guard from the first scene, and doesn’t let you go, continually building tension until the credits begin to roll. You only have one chance to see a film unspoiled, and I strongly recommend you do. This review will be spoiler free, but still – read at your own risk.
The entirely of the film takes place at a dinner party held by wealthy couple Eden and David, who invite all of their friends to join them as a reunion after the group not seeing each-other for two years. Any gathering of estranged friends is awkward, but Eden’s ex-husband Will is especially on edge, feeling that just underneath the requisite civility there’s something dangerous about to happen at this house party where every door is locked, nobody can get a phone signal, and there are newly-installed bars in the windows.
The Invitation takes us inside Will’s head, which explains his paranoia of the bare-foot new-wave hosts with their loose clothes and plastered on smiles. But for every reason the film gives us to be suspicious of David and Eden, it throws us another to mistrust the increasingly off-kilter Will. Until the film’s climax, we’re left second-guessing everything it shows us. Is the dinner party just a ruse, obfuscating some sinister plot; or is Will still too upset over his past trauma, and his ex-wife’s new happiness, to enjoy a night together with old pals?
The film’s use of sound, like a Shepard’s tone, only increases and heightens the tension, muting the background chatter and dinner noises to focus on Will’s inner scare-chords. As Will keeps on ducking out of the party, and we become increasingly aware that we only see and hear what draws his focus; it’s hard not wonder the sort of normal dinner party things we might be missing out on in favor of the miniscule little actions that fit into Will’s paranoid narrative.
The Invitation is an uncomfortable film, one that rests on close-ups of the actors faces, eyes darting from one to the other, often unsure of when to speak and what to say; and where the anxiety of having to enjoy oneself feels like witnessing a murder. But, like Will, despite everything telling us to leave, the party keeps dragging us back inside for another glass of wine, or this tape that the hosts are really eager to show everyone.
Directed by: Karyn Kusama
Written by: Phil Hay, Matt Manfredi
Starring: Logan Marshall-Green, Tammy Blanchard, Michiel Huisman, Emayatzy Corinealdi, Lindsay Burdge, Mike Doyle, Jay Larson, John Carroll Lynch