Well, there is a reason why you can’t be friends with your ex.
The Invitation is a powder keg with a slow-burning fuse. The simple set-up gradually unfolds to reveal a divorced couples’ tragic past, while also building up a hidden agenda in the present.
The movie accomplishes this with a clever ruse – Will starts out as the voice of reason until he becomes an unreliable protagonist. There is something off about Eden’s magical transformation but she seems happy enough. Will chooses to retreat within himself to avoid the tension, wandering around the house and inevitably opening up old wounds as nostalgia rises from familiar places.
However, odd behavior from the hosts feeds Will’s suspicions. When the plot finally reveals what happened in their two-year absence it solidifies into paranoia. “It’s harmless!” his friend quips. They’re in LA after all, where people have the money to waste on New Age cures. The hosts keep the expensive wine flowing and preaching to a bare minimum. It’s all just a casual dinner party with an adult twist, no harm no foul.
The invitation executes this ambiguity with nuanced film making. Plot revelations drop in short bursts, placated by diversions in between.
The cinematography gives the audience a clear sense of time during flashbacks, where the golden hues of the present are scrubbed off to preview the past. Camera work gives confined framing compositions that give a sense of claustrophobic dread that punctuates the ending. The sound design and score help sustain the creepy atmosphere.
All of these elements also work together to take the audience inside Will’s headspace, and they too deal with a haunted past and a potentially more haunting present.
Tom Hardy lookalike Logan Marshal-Green is convincing as the well-meaning but emotionally unstable Will. Tammy Blanchard and Michiel Huisman created characters that are what you would exactly expect from people who clearly drank somebody else’s kool-aid.
As a result, you have an engaging movie that expertly dials up the tension at the right moments. The Invitation already tells you how it will end, but throws in different plot elements to make you question it.
That being said, the movie is more of a journey-than-a-destination type of film. It has a typical narrative with threadbare characters. It’s questionable how most of them don’t even give a side-eye to the whole shady affair. The final twist isn’t surprising. Any moviegoer who recognizes John Caroll Lynch will know how the movie will end once he popped up.
However, the craftsmanship from Karyn Kusama cannot be denied. Her third indie movie takes a while to reach its satisfying pay-off, but it’s a cathartic conclusion nonetheless. Anyone looking for a good slow-burner will enjoy The Invitation as a thrilling ride, even if its story treads on familiar ground.
The Invitation is a conventional thriller about delusional New Age cures but still manages to be engrossing thanks to nuanced filmmaking and solid performances.