By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –
Karyn Kusama’s had quite an up and down career since breaking out with Sundance smash Girlfight. Follow-ups Aeon Flux and Jennifer’s Body both went over about as well as tofurkey at a Thanksgiving barbecue competition, but this year’s she’s back with a change of pace heading in the right direction.
Pictured: The Wrong Direction
The Invitation is much more like it- a thriller about a man (Logan Marshall-Green) returning with his girlfriend (Emayatzy Corinealdi) to the house of his ex-wife (Tammy Blanchard) and her new beau (Michael Huisman) for a reunion dinner party with their old friends. This is awkward in more ways than one, as they split due to a shared tragedy, and now the hosting couple wants to tell them all about the cool new belief system that helped them get their lives back in order. Something ain’t right.
Karyn Kusama does an excellent job of ratcheting up the feeling if unease, that something’s not quite right, that we’re missing something essential and maybe dangerous, right from the jump. That weird feeling you get when you hear somebody waxing effusively about this new belief system or philosophy or spiritualism that have totally changed their lives. This film basically plays on that discomfort and spins an entire thriller out of it.
No… no thank you.
The first two acts mostly play out via conversation, but the conversations get weirder and weirdly profound until they just… turn a corner. As the actors get more comfortable with each other, they play very well off each other, especially when things start going to crazytown, and technically speaking Bobby Shore shoots a very slick film. Honestly, saying much more spoils this kind of dish, but suffice it to say, when the third act tips over the precipice, even then Kusama keeps tight control, maintaining a nice ever-ratcheting escalation to a fairly unexpected denouement and one of the finest final shots of the year.
The Invitation takes awhile to get chugging. Some awkwardness is clearly what they were going for, and some is probably unintentional- actors of varying degrees of experience getting used to acting like they’ve known each other for years and delivering lines that depend on that comfort and history to feel authentic. They get there, though.
The Invitation is a taught thriller, a thoroughly creepy example of tonal control, and a roaring comeback by Karyn Kusama.
The Invitation (2016) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: for flashbacks
Take a Drink: whenever anyone mentions “the invitation”
Take a Drink: for every blank smile from Eden
Take a Drink: for heartfelt revelations
Take a Drink: whenever Will acts super-intense or snoops around
Do a Shot: when shit gets cray