SHOCK reviews Karyn Kusama’s masterful THE INVITATION.
It’s evidence of my ignorance that I sort of ignored director Karyn (JENNIFER’S BODY) Kusama’s “comeback” horror film THE INVITATION (read former SHOCK editor Sam Zimmerman’s glowing review here) when it was doing its theatrical rounds earlier this year.
The press photos sent around were dull, showing evidence of that grating “gold/brown” look that most contemporary, shot on digital films have (and that I tend to dislike), with images of bearded hipster guys having cocktails with bland women in some sort of LA living room. The synopsis didn’t sell me either, telling us as it did that the film was about a bunch of friends getting together for dinner where secrets are revealed yadda yadda yadda. Snooze.
With a small window to watch movies and having a specific interest in brighter, more dream-like cinema, I put THE INVITATION on the back of the back burner’s back burner, promising I’d watch it some day, on a slow some day, after I’d watched SUSPIRIA another 6 times.
What a total, complete and utter arrogant and uninformed buffoon I was.
Last week I received a copy of Drafthouse’s Blu-ray/DVD combo back of THE INVITATION and, considering it was the only film that came through the post that day, I opted to give it a spin.
And it effectively blew my mind.
Jesus. What a movie.
THE INVITATION stars Logan Marshall-Green as Will, the haunted (and mega-bearded) ex-husband of Claire (Marieh Delfino), who invites Will and his new girlfriend Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi) to Will’s opulent former home in the Hollywood Hills that Claire now shares with her new man David (GAME OF THRONES’ Michiel Huisman). In what on the surface looks like a millennial THE BIG CHILL, the quartet are joined by a gaggle of their oldest, closest friends to drink, dine, share stories and re-connect. But Will, already skeptical about this gathering, soon learns that the real reason Claire and David have arranged this party is to spread the gospel about a new age “religion” they have immersed themselves in, a cult that preaches forgiveness, openness and complete surrender to anxiety and worldly pain.
None of the friends really buy what the couple are selling, but the wine is good and the house is lovely and they figure there’s no harm in staying the night and enduring the not-to-subtle attempts at brainwashing.
But Will is having none of it. As we see in fragmented flashbacks, part of the reason his marriage fell apart was that he and Claire’s young son met with an accident and died and Will is still broken. And he’s annoyed that seemingly Claire is not. And he’s more irked when a glassy-eyed member of the cult (the great John Carroll Lynch) shows up to their soiree.
Is Will unjustly paranoid or is something genuinely sinister afoot?
We won’t reveal more, but suffice to say that all does not end well…
THE INVITATION is a revelation, armed with a sensitive, sharp and meticulously orchestrated script by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi that takes its time developing each character full completely, organically introducing twists and never blowing the ambiguity that keeps us glued. Kusama’s direction is a masterclass in how to create horror in a single location, letting her lens follow these people but keeping the focus mostly on Will, who is both unknowable and heroic. The music, an often atonal, borderline experimental score by Theodore Shapiro, is subtle and malevolent, helping to ratchet the tension and the escalating intensity of the piece; it echoes the eerie music by Climax Golden Twins in Brad Anderson’s similarly slow-burning, multi-character psycho-thriller SESSION 9. That’s a good thing.
With THE INVITATION, Kusama proves that she is one of the most sophisticated filmmakers working today, someone who can make the intimate seem epic and betraying what was likely a more-than-modest budget at every turn. In the supplemental making-of doc on the back-end of this release, we get to know her a bit and it’s time well spent. She’s effortlessly intelligent, articulate and serious about the work. And those traits are pulsing throughout every inch of this remarkable film. This is a collaborative effort for certain, but it’s Kusama’s show.
Color me ashamed that I avoided it this long, but I’m thankful that I finally saw the light. THE INVITATION is a must see picture.