Before you proceed, ask yourself one simple question: “Have I seen The Invitation yet?” If the answer is no, you should probably rectify that as soon as possible. I know I’m glad I did, on the final day of Fantastic Fest 2015, because I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.
I won’t be talking spoilers per se, but this is one movie that benefits from a viewing in the blind. Don’t read up on it. Don’t watch the trailer. Don’t even look at the poster. No one was willing to tell me a damn thing about it after its two regular screenings, which could’ve only meant one thing. This was a movie I simply had to watch, even though I was leaving a day early. So, luggage in hand, I headed over to the Alamo Drafthouse where I’d spent the last eight days, and I dumped my suitcase in the corner of the theatre before the 8:00am press screening. I didn’t have time to grab my morning coffee on the way, but Karyn Kusama’s vice-grip thriller left me with enough adrenaline for the weekend.
Logan Marshall-Green, once “Tom Hardy Light”, will now forever be known as the guy from The Invitation. He’s the epicenter of this unsettling tremor, an experience that puts paranoia up on the big screen, not just by presenting a paranoid main character, but by filling you, the audience, with a constant sense of suspicion that also makes you question your perspective. Marshall-Green’s Will, a man still recovering from the death of his son, takes his ex-wife Eden up on her invitation to the Hollywood Hills (already a bad sign), where he and his new girlfriend spend the evening with a bunch old chums and a mysterious stranger.
To make matters worse, the stranger is played by John Carroll Lynch, i.e. Zodiac’s probably-the-Zodiac-killer-but-we-can’t-be-certain. He’s a friend and confidant to Eden’s new beau, but his low key presence doesn’t sit well with Will, nor does anything else at the party, from the laughter, to the plating, to his ex wife’s smile. Has she truly moved past their son’s death, and is he the only one still stuck in that moment? Who’s to say. She’s certainly medicating herself enough to pretend (as is he), but then why invite Will to her home? Ah, that’s the question, isn’t it? But there’s another question that supersedes it for most of the runtime: is Will even right in questioning? Worse yet, are we?
If I had to sum it up without giving anything away (I haven’t, even if you think I have), The Invitation is an air-tight exercise in narrative perspective, one that doesn’t let you up for air for even a second. It’s an expertly crafted thriller even when nothing is “happening”, but perhaps the scariest thing about it is its examination of how we, as a culture, deal with grief. And that’s all I’m going to say about that!
The Invitation is currently on Netflix (in most countries, I believe), and as we approach Fantastic Fest 2016, all I can hope is that last year’s most intense experience keeps finding an audience. It’s a shame Kusama has only made four films since 2000, but if anything’s going to change her career trajectory, it’s this. The level of technical mastery and tonal control on display is matched only by the sense of dread it induces. Good luck getting this one out from under your skin.