A Fantastic Fest 2015 Review
The Invitation – Joining the Party
United States, 2015
Special Screening, 97 min
Director – Karyn Kusama
Will (Logan Marshall-Green) is invited to a dinner party thrown by his ex-wife Eden (Tammy Blanchard) in the home they once shared. Neither Will nor the rest of the guest list has seen Eden in two years, not since she attempted suicide following the accidental death of their young son. Both Will and Eden have moved on: Will brings along his new girlfriend Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi); Eden is remarried to David (Michiel Huisman), someone she met during her recovery. The reunion of Will and Eden, along with their closest friends, is expected to be painful, but even Will can’t expect what comes next.
The Invitation is the latest film by Karyn Kusama, who first broke into the scene with 2000’s critically-acclaimed Girlfight, which she wrote and directed. She later tried her hand at horror with the under-rated Jennifer’s Body in 2009. This film is her first in six years, and her return to the cinema is long overdue. The script by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi provides her with the perfect material to flex her directing chops. Though very much a genre film, Kusama infuses it with grounded sensibility, which lures the audience into a false sense of security. With that, the trap is set.
With The Invitation, Kusama explores what I’d like to call griefsplotation. POTENTIAL SPOLIERS: The entire film hinges on the grief felt by Will and Eden over the loss of their son, and how they both decided to cope with it. Will seems to have tried to bury it, but Eden has embraced a strange, dark philosophy centered on the release of pain by living in the present. The guests are alarmed by Eden’s change in personality, but cautiously hear her out as she and her new husband pitch their cultish beliefs. With the introduction of two bizarre guests, Will grows increasingly agitated by the unfolding events, and becomes more and more distrustful of Eden and her husband. With each new development, Will becomes more erratic, the tension ratchets up, and the mystery deepens, all leading to a shocking and violent conclusion.
Marshall-Green and Blanchard turn in excellent performances, selling their characters and their pain. Blanchard expertly sustains mystery, and Marshall-Green as our entry-point truly excels as the film unfolds. As that entry-point, we trust him and his perspective, but the grief he feels may just be clouding his judgement, making him as unreliable as Eden.
It’s difficult to discuss the film without revealing the Hitchcockian twists and turns it takes. What I can say is that you are in for a truly unique film experience. I’d rather not divulge spoilers in this review, as the experience of discovering them for yourself is a great deal of the film’s fun. It’s safe to say the film grows increasingly dark and Kusama certainly doesn’t pull any punches. The grief we feel through the characters slowly gives way to anger and paranoia as the film tightens its grip around the audience. Before we realize it, we’re trapped in the house along with the guests, having accepted the invitation ourselves. By the time we realize what’s happening, it’s too late to escape.
The Invitation is currently set for a March 2016 release by Drafthouse Films.