The Invitation (2015)
Starring Logan Marshall-Green, Tammy Blanchard, Michiel Huisman, John Carroll Lynch, Emayatzy Corinealdi
Director of Photography: Bobby Shore
Music by Theodore Shapiro
Edited by Plummy Tucker
Written by Phil Hay & Matt Manfredi
Directed by Karyn Kusama
Rating: 9 out of 10
The Invitation is a clever thriller which relies more on atmosphere and performance than on plot, but still manages to deliver a shocking third act and a truly surprising final twist. I haven’t been that surprised by an ending (or specifically, a last shot) in a long time and there are few things I appreciate more. The film offers many things to appreciate, though, from great performances throughout, especially Logan Marshall-Green in the lead role. Karyn Kusama’s directing is excellent too, creating an uncomfortable, eerie mood with many interesting perspectives and use of focus. It is a very deliberate movie.
(spoilers are possible!)
On the surface, the movie works as a simple horror-thriller where the protagonists get into an uncomfortable situation which gets weirder and more threatening until a violent resolution. But I think the movie is more than that because the actual theme is how people deal with clear warning signs of something going terribly wrong. How do you deal with the fact that everyone seems to be oblivious about something that seems obviously dangerous to you?
Throughout the movie the idea of something dark lurking beneath the surface is investigated. Will (Logan Marshall-Green) returns back to his house where he used to live with Eden (Tammy Blanchard). They had a son who died which caused their relationship to fall apart. Now he, accompanied by his new partner Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi) follows an invitation from Eden to a dinner party which she hosts together with her new partner David (Michiel Huisman). This should be the setup for a traditional drama where old conflicts resurface and past battles are fought.
But for the most part two things happen instead: first, memories of his son haunt Will. On the surface, the house is filled with new life by Eden and David but for Will, the dark past is constantly present, rearing its head for him to face it. He is the only one who even mentions the past and is willing to talk about it but Eden and everyone else want to ignore that part of their lives. It’s unpleasant and no one is sure what exactly to say, so it seems easier to shun the topic.
Second, odd things happen and Will seems to be the only one who first notices and then acknowledges them. A half-naked stranger standing in a doorway. Eden claiming that grief can be rationalized away. David having whispering phone calls. A guest (John Carroll Lynch) that only the hosts know. And finally a video that shows someone dying but is celebrated as some kind of transcendental act.
The reactions are diverse. Some laugh it off as esoteric bullshit, some are put off by, some are impressed by how well Eden deals with everything. You can see in their faces that they don’t know what to think and that they might even be worried, but some sense of solidarity or fear makes them pretend that everything is fine. They express their confusion but it is still a dinner party after all, so they don’t want to risk any real conflict. If you look closely at the signs, they add up to something really worrisome but you feel all of their unwillingness to accept and face that. It seems easier to just go on instead of doing something.
Will is the only one who reacts. He first tries to discuss the issue, somewhat rationally but he doesn’t get very far. He is always distracted by his own demons but he still notices all the inconsistencies. The others portray him as hysteric and unstable but it becomes more and more clear that he is the only one looking behind the curtain and seeing the cracks. But as everyone continues to fend him off, he doubts himself. Knowing what we know about the ending shows that even the only one who seems to see the truth has very little chance of getting through to everyone else.
This way, the movie works fantastically as a parable for people trying to get the attention of anyone who pretends that everything is fine. It is easy to become the crazy paranoiac who stands on a box and screams conspiracy (and there are enough of those), even if your claims are well-founded. I love the movie for taking that idea all the way. The ending then works also as if to say that if pretense and false motives rule, the world is more likely to end. And if we don’t try to turn off one of those pink lights at a time, we’ll never get enough people to wake up before it’s too late.