About 20 minutes into The Invitation, I considered shutting it off and picking something else to watch – which would have been an error on my part. By means of explanation, I’ll say that even up to that point, the movie wasn’t bad at all. It opened well, with a nicely defining moment for the protagonist, Will (played by Prometheus’s Logan Marshall-Green), as he and his girlfriend drive through an LA canyon, responding to a dinner party invitation. There’s a palpable layer of tension in this movie from the outset, and it never lets up. The information about Will is doled out very well indeed, to the point where it’s almost a shock to discover that the Hollywood Hills destination, a modern mansion worth millions, actually used to be his home. It’s all so very subtle and well done. For me, the problem with the movie came right after that, when Will and Kira enter the home and meet with Will’s small circle of friends, whom he hasn’t seen in a couple of years. So what’s the problem? In a nutshell, I couldn’t stand any of them.
The good thing here is that using Will as the eyes and ears of the audience, seeing them through this lens I was able to stomach them and move on. I’ve never been to a dinner party in Hollywood before, but I know enough about the mid strata of LA folk to be swayed by the authenticity of the writing here. I absolutely could not sit in a closed room with any of these people – it’s a different culture, that’s for sure. But here’s the thing; once the movie ends, there’s this glorious realization that the entire story is a satire on that very culture, and for me, I found it to be somewhat cathartic.
The best thing about the movie is the character of Will. It’s clear from early in the movie, thanks to some subtle flashbacks to the recent past, that he hasn’t recovered from the tragedy. In fact, the movie hinges on the extent of the PTSD that he’s clearly suffering from. As an aside, present-day Will with his long hair and unkempt beard looks amazingly like Tom Hardy. It’s hard to reconcile this with the clean cut, pre-tragedy Will shown in flashback – I couldn’t shake the feeling that both versions were played by two different actors, even though I knew that wasn’t actually the case. Yeah, it’s dumb, but c’mon, you don’t think this looks like Tom Hardy?
The movie takes a turn early into unsettling territory in a series of small scenes and actions, each one Will is directly a part of. It’s at this point where the tension begins to be slowly ratcheted up by director Karyn Kusama (Aeon Flux, Jennifer’s Body), and really kicks in with the introduction of two people who are not part of Will’s circle of friends, and a creepy “game” initiated by Will’s ex-wife’s new husband, David (Game of Thrones’ Michiel Huisman) that steers the movie into dark waters.
As the creep-factor increases, it’s worth noting that the writing of the other characters doesn’t really vary. In an attempt to show Will as the only one who feels that something really odd is going on, and by not allowing the other characters to express similar misgivings, I felt this was some really obvious manipulation on the part of writers Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi. In a closed-environment story like this, it’s inevitable and natural that people will form into groups and alliances, but here, everyone stays unchanged by the events unfolding around them. I don’t want to say it’s bad writing because I understood the purpose of it – nevertheless, it disappointed me. In the framework of everything else that’s good about the writing and the story, the hollowness of the characters is a problem. For me, at least.
Add to this the fact that a couple of essential plot points rely on certain people suddenly acting stupid, and the story threatens to derail at the end of Act 2, but it actually all comes together quite well thanks to a 180 degree change of pace, and an explosion of activity that will either turn the movie on its head for you, or confirm the suspicions about the story you’d have since the midpoint.
That part of Act 3 succeeds in propelling the movie to what was, for me, a pretty satisfying conclusion kicking it out of the mystery-thriller genre and into that of horror. Watching the final seconds of the movie it struck me how appropriate a shortened version of this story would be for the V/H/S franchise. I don’t mean that to praise that franchise, which is extremely hit and miss (more the latter than the former), just saying that it could definitely work well within that framework.
I struggled over rating this, but while it isn’t a solid 4, it does come close enough. If you enjoy watching slow burning mysteries unfold, and don’t require movies to keep your attention with the nonsense of jump-scares, The Invitation is well worth a look.
© Andrew Hope, 2016