The first scene of Karyn Kusama’s thriller The Invitation sets the the tone for the rest of the film; from then on, a foreboding sense of disaster hangs in the air, like chaos is imminent. I am challenged to review this film without spoiling the larger shock to come, but here goes.
Logan Marshall-Green leads the cast as Will, a bearded man haunted by tragic events. The dinner party thrown by his ex Eden (Tammy Blanchard) and her new love David (Michiel Huisman) serves as the locus for the film; the night’s activities are seen through Will’s viewpoint, tinged with slight paranoia. The casting of two young bearded brunette actors also lends a confused layer to the story.
Will’s new girlfriend Kira (Emyatzy Corinealdi, Middle of Nowhere) meets friends Will hasn’t spoken to in a couple years: talkative Gina (Michelle Krusiec, Saving Face), couple Tommy (Mike Doyle, Gayby) and nurse(?) Miguel (Jordi Vilasuso, Days of Our Lives) among others. Eden and David are celebratory after time spent in Mexico, eager to talk about the fellowship they found there. Their friends note Eden’s shift in outlook, but Will fears something nefarious is at work.
The surprise guests — questionable new associates played by John Carroll Lynch (American Horror Story, The Americans) and Lindsay Burdge (A Teacher) — certainly don’t put Will’s mind at any ease. Kusama’s taut direction and Bobby Shore’s cinematography give no hints as to whether Will’s suspicions are correct or if it is all in his mind. Kusama and Shore make excellent use of the dim evening setting, and the house’s modernist structure becomes claustrophobic and maze-like as the tension of the film progresses.
As someone who tends to veer away from scary movies, I can’t speak to possible horror tropes that might appear in The Invitation. Even with foreshadowing and the viewer’s sense of things being “off” about this situation, the thriller surprises and stuns. The twist at the ending made me gasp (I wrote “OH SHIT” in my notes). With a diverse cast of characters thrust into this terrifying dinner party, The Invitation is deliciously creepy.
Note: if you can, skip the trailer before seeing the film. (Even that is a little too spoiler-y!)
The Invitation opens on Friday, April 8, in select theatres and VOD. Stills courtesy of Drafthouse Films.