Here’s what I knew about The Invitation before watching it: it’s good and there is potential for spoiling (which I will avoid). With that in mind, I avoided reading about it and looked forward to its theatrical release. (4/8/16) Imagine my disappointment when I saw that it wasn’t coming to Chicago until 4/15! Well, I wasn’t taking that bit of bad news lying down. I went straight to my go-to VOD outlet and ponied up some cash (not literal cash) and watched it on my own terms! (rebel!) You should too. (or, better yet, see it in a theater)
Will is a bearded, shaggy-haired guy with a bit of a thousand yard stare (just a bit. like, a 400 yard stare maybe) He and his girlfriend have been invited (via fancy, formal invitation) to his ex-wife Eden’s house (formerly their house) for a dinner party with their group of old friends. They haven’t seen each other in two years. Their reunion is awkward (sometimes painfully so) but they all clearly missed each other. The inclusion of two individuals who are strangers to the old pals – new friends of Eden and her boyfriend – makes things even weirder. The affable group takes this in stride but it makes Will anxious. The fact that Eden’s boyfriend insists on locking the exits doesn’t help his anxiety. As Will drifts through his old house/life among the people/ghosts (metaphorical) of his past, his unease compounds until he is genuinely afraid that something bad might happen. Are his fears merited or just a manifestation of past trauma?
Karyn Kusama has expertly crafted a deeply paranoiac film with The Invitation. And it is superb. (don’t hold Aeon Flux or Jennifer’s Body against her) Will’s anxieties and his pain are believable. We understand why he’s worried and why he’s not chalking his ex-wife’s strange behavior up to simple awkwardness or her newfound belief in the self-help hemi-cult, The Invitation (title!). Kusama’s deft interspersal of Will’s memories as hallucinogenic manifestations replacing or superimposed over his surroundings is particularly engrossing. Who was that? Where are they now? What happened two years ago? The information is meted out carefully, deliberately. The device perfectly maintains the mystery of the story, forgoing potentially clunky exposition. Rightfully so. Any clunkiness would derail the steadily increasing fear the audience is experiencing. And that fear makes the whole film. It builds on a shaky foundation of mildly nagging unease and compounds and compounds until it is a teetering tower threatening catastrophe (‘tragedy’ would have been too alliterative of me). Kasuma cleverly removes some of Will’s fears at points, poking holes in that metaphorical tower. (like a game of Fear Jenga played in a car racing over a dirt road. you guys know Fear Jenga, right?) I’m skirting some major plot points in an effort to keep the film mysterious and surprising, but, make no mistake, this is an awesome film that will stoke your anxieties until the end. It is very effective in that sense. Is it a perfect movie? No. (what’s ‘perfect’ anyway?) There are some scenes that are a bit drawn out; there are a few less-than-Oscar-worthy line deliveries; and there’s some questionable character logic (i know i would have cut out of that party early). But all of that is forgivable considering just how well the story gets under your skin.
The Final Cut: The Invitation delivers fear and anxiety in spades. Despite a few minor issues, Kusama’s intimate film is a first-rate portrait of paranoia and emotional devastation.