To those of us allergic to small talk, awkward silences and forced conversations, a dinner party invitation is enough to chill you right to the bone. Throw in an ex, her smug new lover, and memories of a tragedy that occurred at the location of the party and you have the ingredients for an evening full of ass-clenching discomfort.
Will and his current girlfriend receive ‘the invitation’ from Will's ex-wife Eden and her new partner David. The evening of festivities will take place at Eden's house, the house that Will and Eden used to share until they divorced years earlier following the tragic death of their son. Eden and David have been in Mexico for the past couple of years and invite a number of old friends for the gathering, as well as two new friends who none of the group know. Will is uncomfortable from the start, but it is only when Eden and David's reason for inviting them all is gradually revealed that the evening becomes truly excruciating.
With nothing but a dimly lit and beautifully decorated house in the Hollywood hills and a small cast of characters, director Karyn Kusama turns The Invitation into a suspense-filled nightmare of dinner party anxiety and chilling ambiguity. For much of the film, Will is the odd man out, suspicious of his friends and playing detective throughout. While the others can relax, he is haunted by memories of the past, flashbacks triggered by the unfortunate, but meaningful choice of location. But it’s never quite clear how paranoid Will is, and as his friends become exasperated by his erratic behaviour, there is plenty of doubt as to whether it is he who is losing his mind.
The dinner party crawls along, as Kusama ratchets up the tension. There's an abundance of exposition to kick things off, but as the true reasons for the soiree become clear, the evening becomes more interesting. As the night progresses it is revealed what Eden and David have been up to in Mexico, and despite all their smiles and soft voices they have more sinister intentions. Or maybe they just wanted to see their old friends. The Invitation keeps you guessing almost to the end, though the third act goes for the more obvious, more conventional choice.
Still, it doesn't disappoint. Kusama invests everything from food and wine to mirrors and the glittering lights of houses in the Hollywood hills with tension. Amplified by the nerve jangling score, it all adds up with a terrific sense of unease and culminates with a not totally unexpected, but still satisfying climax. The last shot is also a killer punch line.
The screenplay from R.I.P.D. and Ride Along writer Phil Hay is much better than his career up until now would suggest. It could have used a little more subtlety at times, with an early accident involving a coyote and a car being a little too obvious perhaps, but the cast are all excellent, particularly Logan Marshall-Green as Will and the wonderfully creepy Tammy Blanchard as the ethereal Eden.
If you choose to accept The Invitation, you won’t regret it.
THE INVITATION / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR: KARYN KUSAMA / SCREENPLAY: PHIL HAY, MATT MANFREDI / STARRING: MICHIEL HUISMAN, MICHELLE KRUSIEC, LOGAN MARSHALL-GREEN, EMAYATZY CORINEALDI / RELEASE DATE: TBC
Expected Rating: 7 out of 10