It feels to have been some time since we have had a film like The Invitation on the big screen, but after more than doubling its budget at the box office (to the surprise of many), maybe we will get more. It is perhaps giving the game away to say the film was inspired by Bram Stoker’s legendary text Dracula but the marketing has made little effort to hide its toothy reveal. Plus, early on, you know exactly where the film is going, in what is a Ready or Not style genre-spliced take on the well known vampiric character/backstory.
The film sees aspiring artist Evelyn (an excellent and charismatic Nathalie Emmanuel) working to make ends meet as a freelance caterer, serving rich dismissive douchebags. Having lost both her parents, she takes a DNA test, curious to see if there is anyone out there she can call family, to her surprise she gets a response from a wealthy family in England. Meeting up with her distant posh cousin Oliver Alexander, she takes his invitation to attend a wedding at a mansion home in Whitby overseen by the attractive Lord Walter De Ville (Thomas Doherty). Everything seems grand (in more ways than one) but a great, and historic darkness lies in this home and it wants something, or rather, someone.
Needless to say you have probably put two and two together by now, and if you haven’t, you will early into Jessica M. Thompson’s very well dressed film. Aesthetically enchanting, with a sense of Gothic and a Hammer-like vibe, this film has plenty of atmosphere at its disposal. While its slow burning blend of romance and horror largely offers an engaging experience.
Sure, you know precisely what is going on and yes, the film perhaps takes on far too much all at once, as it combines horror thrills, with a sweeping (or not) love story, a stab at social commentary on class/racial division (that’s all done in rather broad strokes) and that aggrandised climax, and odd sequel baiting ending, but it’s all decent fun really isn’t it? Nothing to re-invent the wheel certainly, and not always subtle but still effectively entertaining and with some nice little references for fans of the lingering source material.
Led by a fantastic lead performance by Emmanuel and a strong supporting turn by Doherty, as well as the likes of Sean Pertwee, Stephanie Corneliussen and Carol Ann Crawford, The Invitation works. It is really, in spite of some modernised interjections, quite an old fashioned fanged tale, that makes for a visually seductive viewing, if not always a full-blooded scare-fest…though that bit with the fingernail at the spa. Bleugh Bleugh Bleugh!