We have all heard of the phrase ‘dinner party from hell’. Some of you unfortunate enough would have experienced such an evening, one that begins with good intentions but which descends into chaos and confrontation. However, this term is not strong enough to describe Karyn Kusama’s THE INVITATION, an evening so monstrously filled with tension, paranoia and doom that may leave you questioning future dinner parties you may attend and every invitation you receive.
Will (Logan Marshall-Green) and his girlfriend Kira (Emayatzy Corineakdi) arrive at the home of his ex-wife Eden (Tammy Blanchard) and her new partner David (Michael Huismann). The couple split two years earlier when a tragedy tore their lives and their marriage apart, leaving Will to distance herself from their friends and Eden to leave the country. Will is the epitome of a troubled soul whose friends treat him with kid gloves – as though he is a pressure cooker of rage and emotions ready to explode – who sees the ghost of his past in every room of this house, the very home that he once shared with Eden. Eden, meanwhile, appears to counterbalance Will’s sensitivity with her fixed smile, outstretched welcoming arms and overly, maybe too friendly, attentiveness to her guests. They are both dealing with their situation and continuing their lives in very different ways.
As the ex-couple and their respective partners gather with their old friends, it becomes clear that something is not quite right. Random guests who are explained as new friends of the couple begin to appear, there are whispered telephone conversations, locked doors, ringing doorbells with no guest invited inside, and there are multiple, contradicting explanations, of Eden and David’s new life while the arrival of their friend Pruitt (a fantastically creepy John Carroll Lynch), only compounds this terror. His stories verge into the truly horrifying despite his pleasant and overly polite demeanour. Meanwhile Eden and David frequently, and insistently, tell their guests to ‘have fun’ and ‘relax’, which, as we all know, only encourages feelings of awkwardness amongst the party.
It is a very effective, and affecting film, made all the more so by a talented ensemble cast with each character integral to the plot. This may not be a haunted house in the traditional sense but it is indeed one filled with memories of a once happy life that will never be reclaimed. The film hinges on a moment of eruption and when the time arrives THE INVITATION does not disappoint. Marshall-Green is perfectly convincing as the fragile Will, whose shroud of sadness never lifts and begins to effect his, and in turn our, perception of reality, while Blanchard is perfectly chilling as a woman desperately attempting to cling onto her sanity by any means necessary.
The building is another cast member with each room used – every wood-paneled floorboard stepped on and glowing in a not-quite warm glow, not so much soothing as warning, like hazard lights to warn other vehicles on the road. It is a heavy house, filled with not-quite-repressed memories, heavy under the weight of sadness. Unusually, we see more of the house’s interior than we do the characters. Yet we really do not know anything. This is as inescapable situation where nothing will ever be the same. This is not the place for resolution; the past can never be put to bed.
Tags: drafthouse films, Emayatzy Corinealdi, Film Festivals, Film Reviews, John Carroll Lynch, Karyn Kusama, Logan Marshall-Green, Matt Manfredi, Michiel Huisman, Phil Hay, Sabina Stent, Tammy Blanchard, Toby Huss