2015 | Not Rated | USA | Karyn Kusama | 100 min
I saw Karyn Kusama’s latest film, The Invitation, last November at the Ithaca International Fantastic Film Festival, and it was easily the best film I saw there (and there were some good films!) It’s also head-and-shoulders above Kusama’s earlier foray into horror, Jennifer’s Body (2009).
Michael Gingold of Fangoria introduced The Invitation, saying he thought it was one of the best horror films of the last couple of years. I agree (though I still think the standout horror film of 2014 is David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows).
You can find the trailer here. It conveys the thoroughly unnerving nature of the film:
Gingold also said that the less you know about The Invitation going into it, the better—and I wholeheartedly agree with that too. I (purposefully) hadn’t read any reviews of the film ahead of time, and so I got to experience the disconcerting and disorienting events just as the protagonist does. It’s very difficult to write anything about the film without giving too much away and thus spoiling it, so I guess the two principal things I want to convey here are: (a) see the film; and (b) don’t read any reviews of it before you do—except this one, of course: I promise I won’t slip in any spoilers.
What I will say is that the film begins with a dinner party that reunites old friends who haven’t seen each other in two years. From the moment the main character, Will (Logan Marshall-Green), and his new girlfriend, Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi), walk through the door of his ex-wife’s house, things seem off, to say the least. Will thinks so, and, even though the other characters seem hell-bent on pretending everything is perfectly normal (which I think is part of the point of the film), the viewer tends, I think, to side with Will. How many dinner parties have you gone to where the host locks the door and takes the key with him?
All the performances here are stellar, with not a single false step. And the writing and directing are superb, creating almost unbearable tension as the dinner party gets into full swing. It is to Kusama’s credit that I kept waiting for the shoe to drop . . . and waiting . . . and waiting . . . and it didn’t. She just ratcheted up the suspense just a little bit more.
Before the shoe did drop (because it did!), Kusama unerringly played everything straight down the line between perfectly-normal-dinner-party (normal, at least, for one that reunites a now-divorced couple, each with new partner in tow) and sinister-as-hell-dinner-party. The viewer never quite knows which it is, especially since we experience it largely from the perspective of a man (Will) who is slowly disclosed as unreliable, even catastrophically traumatized. We don’t know whether to believe what he sees, through the overlay of his inevitable interpretation of what he sees.
The film will keep you thinking well after it’s over, thinking about grief, faith, love, death—all the big questions. It’ll make you think about what you do with the pain you accrue during the course of a lifetime—and what you should do, if anything, to unburden yourself of that pain.
And the final frame is one I never saw coming.
The Invitation is available on VOD today, Friday April 8, on Amazon.