'The Invitation' (2016)

The Invitation
© Alamo Drafthouse

Synopsis: A man is suspicious of his ex-wife's intentions when he and their circle of friends are invited to her house for a dinner party.

Cast: Logan Marshall-Green, Tammy Blanchard, Michiel Huisman, Emayatzy Corinealdi, John Carroll Lynch

Director: Karyn Kusama

Studio: Drafthouse Films

MPAA Rating: NR

Running Time: 100 minutes

Release Date: April 8, 2016 (in theaters/on demand)

The Invitation Movie Trailer

The Invitation Movie Review

Director Karyn Kusama parlayed the notoriety from her acclaimed 2000 indie Girlfight into bigger-budget studio films Aeon Flux and , both of which disappointed critically and commercially. Now, more than six years after her last movie, she's returning to indie filmmaking, and if The Invitation is any indication, this is definitely where she should butter her bread.

The Plot

Two years since any of their friends have heard from them, middle-aged couple David (Michiel Huisman) and Eden (Tammy Blanchard) suddenly reappear on the grid, sending invitations for a dinner party in their Hollywood Hills home to a group of old pals. Amongst them is Will (Logan Marshall-Green), Eden's ex-husband, who immediately eyes her seemingly complete recovery from the death of their young son with suspicion.

She met David in grief counseling, growing closer to him as her marriage to Will fell apart, and although Will is now dating Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi), he still seems to harbor some resentment about the situation. It doesn't help his mood that the party is being held in the home he used to share with Eden and their son, causing tragic memories to come flooding back into his mind.

The host couple's overly cheery attitude -- and that of their two odd new friends -- doesn't seem to bother anyone except Will, however, as they cavort through a night of drunken reverie while he sits glumly on the sidelines. Is he merely jealous, or does he have good reason to be leery of David and Eden? When one friend is mysteriously nowhere to be found and another leaves under curious circumstances, Will's paranoia heightens, and it becomes increasingly unclear if they're a danger to him or he's a danger to them.

The End Result

The Invitation is a delightfully demented mystery that plays on the awkward social dynamics of dinner parties, from meeting new people and trying to discern what makes them tick to reuniting with estranged friends and trying to get past what pulled you apart. Of course, this treatment takes things to the extreme, with paranoia and murder on the menu.

Kusama (and writers Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, whose all-over-the-place resume includes Clash of the Titans, Ride Along, Aeon Flux, R.I.P.D., Crazy/Beautiful and The Tuxedo) does a great job of building the tension and raising your own Spidey Sense to alarming levels, then breaking it down just enough to make you feel safe. Just as the characters play a cat-and-mouse game with each other, so do the filmmakers play cat and mouse with the audience -- something that might prove a bit frustrating to some viewers, especially when the buildup turns out to exceed the payoff. Still, there's a nice little twisty button of an ending that leaves a deliciously morbid taste in your mouth.

The biggest complaint is that tonally, The Invitation gets stuck between the heavy, realistic drama of Will's grief and the macabre fun of the situation. Less of the former -- which slows the pace too much -- and more of the latter would have loosened things up a bit earlier. As it is, the revelation of what's truly going on comes too late in the film, leaving little time to explore the fallout. That's a fairly minor gripe, though; for the most part, The Invitation delivers riveting suspense and a compelling sense of humanity in an enclosed, single setting that lends the feel of a modern whodunit -- or rather, who's-gonna-do-it.

The Skinny

  • Acting: B (Strong performances all around.)
  • Direction: B (Great paranoid energy; plays well off the intimacy of the situation.)
  • Script: B- (Creates a good sense of anticipation and mystery, although the pacing and tone are a bit off.)
  • Gore/Effects: C (Modest gore.)
  • Overall: B- (An engaging modern mystery that invites viewers to play along.)

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