US | 2015 | Directed by Karyn Kasuma
Logline: While attending a dinner party at his former home, a man begins to suspect that his ex-wife and her new husband have a sinister agenda that involves all the guests.
Will (Logan Marshall-Green) and his partner Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi) are driving up into the Hollywood hills, on their way to a dinner party being held at Will’s former residence, which he once shared with Eden (Tammy Blanchard). Eden now lives there with her new husband David (Michiel Huisman), having returned from two years in the wilderness. Eden is keen to reconnect with some of her dearest friends, and David is more than willing to facilitate the reunion. But there will be tears before bedtime. And there will be blood.
Will and Kira’s drive into the affluent suburb is given an ominous sign when they accidentally hit a coyote. Will is forced to end the badly injured creature’s life with a tire iron. Kira is mortified. They relate the incident to the other guests upon arrival, much to everyone’s horror. But these things happen, all creatures die at some point, and fate’s intervention can be most cruel.
It isn’t long before Will’s wariness gets the better of him. Eden has changed, and Will suspects she hasn’t properly dealt with the tragedy of their life together, the death of their young son. New husband David is eager to show the guests a video of the encounter group they spent time with overseas, that helped Eden deal with her grief. Sadie (Lindsay Burdge) is Eden and David’s houseguest (lover), and she is champing at the bit for everyone’s undivided attention.
Everyone is slightly rattled by the downbeat video, and endeavours to lighten the mood. Will feels the walls closing in. Paranoia and dread will be served upstairs on the mezzanine in an hour.
The Invitation is a fabulous example of what can be done in Tinseltown outside of the iron grip of the studios. Financed completely independently, shot for around $US1m, with terrific direction from Kasuma (I’ll forgive her for Jennifer’s Body, that was mostly Diablo Cody’s fault), a top notch cast, and a rip-snorter of a screenplay by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi that slow-burns with serious heat, culminating in a perfect ending, that reminded me of the same kind of envelope-pushing denouement from the excellent UK horror The Children (would make for a great double-feature).
Booby Shore’s lush, fluid cinematography, the palette all olive, burgundy, chocolate, and umber, and almost entirely set within the plush pad with a garden that gazes out over Laurel Canyon, The Invitation is a brilliantly orchestrated psychological thriller seared with the nightmare tones and execution of classic horror. It’s not over until the fat lady sings, but she may never leave the green room.
One of the reasons The Invitation works so well is the perspective is held firmly in check from Will’s point of view. It is his curiosity, his anxiety, his confusion, his sense of alarm that the audience connects with in palpable degrees. Yet, with each little twist of the screenplay, and they are small, yet quietly devastating, the bigger picture blurs, then sharpens in focus. The odd moments Will witnesses; Sadie, nude from the waits down, eyeing him from the bedroom, happy, dreamy, content Eden putting a bottle of barbiturates in her drawer, the grief counsellor’s creepy message on David’s laptop, David lighting a red lamp hanging from a tree in the garden … All these seem to be part of a dark design that tightens the screw of Will’s concern.
It’s time to raise your glass.
It’s hard to single out best performances, but Tom Hardy lookalike Marshall-Green definitely holds fort, with Tammy Blanchard’s emotionally unhinged presence providing a great juxtaposition, and Huisman’s laidback charm is the perfect dark nemesis to Will’s burgeoning intolerance. The Invitation is Thomas Vinterberg’s Festen for the end of days, a masterful study in deceit, and definitely one of my favourite movies of the year.