The Invitation full movie review - California Screaming!
Where the hell did this one come from?? ?The best, as they often say, is saved 'til last and that certainly proved to be the case when I caught Sunday night closer The Invitation at the 2015 Mayhem Film Festival in Nottingham UK six months ago.
It was one of those rare occasions when a movie proves to be so creepily flesh crawlingly disturbing, that your levels of stress rise to the degree where you want to climb into the screen and scream "Make it stop! Make it stop!" It certainly did for me!
Opening with a turbulent car journey, the story introduces us to invitees Will (Logan Marshall Green) and his partner Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi), arriving at his former home in the Hollywood hills. He is gathered with a group of old chums for an evening of fine cuisine and claret on tap hosted by his ex-wife, Eden (Tammy Blanchard) and her slimy new beau, David (Michiel Huisman). Anxiety prevails and the atmosphere is still thick with fallout from the 'event' that drove Will and Eden apart.
The hosts' have a couple of freaky new friends in attendance too, both of whom add ill-fitting girth to a conversation of new-age enlightenment born from Eden and David's explanation for their two year absence. Tremors of discomfort occur, not least from Will, who strongly begins to suspect his ex-Mrs and her creepy new fancy bit might be up to no good, harbouring sinister intentions for their guests. But as there is evidence to suggest Will may not have his mental faculties in order, his questionable grip on reality may be inducing paranoid delusions of the worst kind...
Directing from a faultlessly constructed screenplay by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, helmer Karyn Kusama's very modern day Californian horror yarn plays like a riff on Brian Yuzna's Society gate crashing The Big Chill (albeit with a better soundtrack), locking the audience into a swirling, dreamy toxic whirlpool of wobbly social etiquette versus let's-get-the-hell-out-of-here stigma that will keep you guessing which way it will fall from the first to last.
The foundations of the story are built solidly on tragic events of the past and how the different paths people take to cope with personal trauma can lead to not necessarily opting for the best route home. There's also room for subtly humorous social commentary too, bravely poking fun at the money laundering spiritually guided pursuits of rich & gullible desperados residing in CA's tackiest resort. We see a landscape still terrorised by the odious spectres of Manson Family home invasions and Applewhite charlatan mantras casting long dark shadows across the backyard swimming pools and sun-bed patios. All of this is backdrop gravy however, and Kusama is sure never to let it drown out the supper's baton passing queasy mystery-drama into full blown thriller/horror trajectory.
Cast iron control is wielded on the twelve strong cast too: the actors may get varying degrees of screen time, but every single character will, at some point, have your full undivided attention. Standouts John Carroll Lynch and Lindsay Burdge as Eden & David's brand new besties, Pruitt and Sadie respectively, will have you writhing in your chair with profound uneasiness, and Corinealdi as 'trophy wife' Kira, blows expectation out of the water when, with immaculate timing, Kusama finally lets her bolt from the stable.
But it's Logan Green as Will who really gets under your skin. After vapid fare such as Devil and the disappointing Prometheus, he momentarily looked cursed with a 'We couldn't get Tom Hardy' millstone round his neck, doomed to a career clearing up in third rate fodder passed over by his thespian 'twin'. Not a chance. Coiffured in a 70's style Jesus locks & beard combo, he resembles a young, lean incarnation of The Big Lebowksi's Dude, going the whole distance with a performance worthy of Bridges at his haunted, brilliantly despondent best.
And then there's Kusama. Up until now her slim CV - consisting of the acclaimed but forgotten Girlfight, and the unfairly maligned Aeon Flux and Jennifer's Body - had hardly set the world on fire. But she finally delivers on her initial promise with a muscular, mature and expertly nuanced piece of work that, if there's any justice in this sorry little world, will rightly escalate her profile into the ranks of the A- List.
Her draw of influences is to be highly commended too where a recent interview had the director citing 1978's Invasion of the Body Snatchers as being at the forefront. The nervy edginess & unearthly autumnal lighting of Phillip Kaufman's remake is perfectly recaptured in texture & tone, not least with Will's explorations of his old residence (courtesy of production designer Almitra Corey's trippy & treacherous interiors) as he spies through door cracks and windows to be frustratingly denied the incriminating evidence he so desperately seeks. This beautifully mirrors Brooke Adams' similar detective antics in IOTBS as she surveys the in clandestine activities of her duplicated pod person fiancée.
And just like Kaufman's undervalued masterpiece, Kusama reveals her Ace trump mere moments before the end credits roll with a final reveal outrageous and terrifying enough to freeze the blood, savvily hitting the satirical, lunatic heights of Network and Fight Club's most Iconic beats on its way. This one's a night to remember.
Thought-provoking and powerful, The Invitation is a modern day master class in the art of suspense building and an instant classic that deserves to be seen in the cinema on a big screen. Seek it out whilst you can.