"This is L.A. They're harmless."
THE INVITATION talks a lot of letting go, of fear and guilt mostly. Will suffers from both. It stems from the death of his son a number of years ago. Being a parent brings upon new rules and expectations: a person that is 50 percent you and 50 percent of another is yours to protect and when you fail in that sole regard then the loss of that person you halfway created shatters your life in countless little pieces.
Will shared that former life with Eden, his now ex-wife; she’s now remarried to David. The two have recently returned from a two-year sabbatical in Mexico, and they celebrate their homecoming with a gathering of Will and Eden’s past circle of friends. It starts off innocently enough. Everyone catches up and tells stories; they play a game where they divulge things that they “want”: confessions, and kisses, and cocaine. It’s obvious something isn’t right, though. There are bars on the windows and David constantly locks the doors and hides the key. They speak of a self-help group led by a Dr. Joseph that they met while on their trip and the way it has washed away the negative emotions in their lives. A video is shown of a woman dying, surrounded by loved ones. It’s a puzzling addition to the events. Many partygoers share in the curiosity of David and Eden’s odd behavior, but Will is the only one who voices his concern.
THE INVITATION is brilliantly organized. The first hour is certainly the strongest; each scene is meticulous and never wasted. It’s largely absent, but when it appears, the score is also impeccable. Twinges of violin stab our ears at inopportune times. It’s unnerving how calm David and Eden remain throughout the looks and questions their guests direct at them, but every time evidence pops up that something sinister may be afoot, the two hosts simply open a new bottle of 1985 Rothschild and produce a believable explanation and suspicions are dissuaded momentarily.
Karyn Kusama is the woman behind THE INVITATION. She earned her fame through female driven films like GIRLFIGHT, AEON FLUX, and the underrated JENNIFER’S BODY. THE INVITATION is her first effort at an ensemble piece, and her craft excels. Save for the beginning few minutes, the entire film takes place exclusively in a Hollywood Hills house, devoid of tenderness and phone service. There’s an extensive amount of uncomfortable tension that she creates, be it from the narrative circumstances or the interaction of the performers that she charged.
Logan Marshall-Green stars as Will. He has greasy hair and a long, uneven beard. He’s given up on keeping up with appearances. His unkempt features are a way to divert attention from the more painful emotional scars he bears. Will floats ethereally throughout his former home, pausing in familiar rooms. The saddest moments are the brief flashbacks we’re privy to: happier times of he and Eden and their son, Ty. Will’s friends at the party rotate between being happy to see him and concern about his wellbeing. His constant outbursts do nothing to alleviate their consternation.
Marshall-Green is good in it, and the rest of the cast is equal to the task. Michiel Huisman and Tammy Blanchard (David and Eden) stand out, but it’s John Carroll Lynch that leaves the most lasting mark. He plays Pruitt, an acquaintance of David. He’s had bit parts in various popular movies, but he’s possibly best known as the alleged killer in David Fincher’s ZODIAC. The same type of calm madness bubbles under the surface. He recites a story about his dead wife and the hair stands up on the back of your neck. It’s a chilling performance.
THE INVITATION is a fascinating story. Buoyed by a stellar group of actors and superb direction, it harks back to the days of THE TWILIGHT ZONE's peculiar tales of disbelief. Chances are you’ll figure out where the film is headed, but the real joy is the final scene when the realization that the world Kusama has introduced takes on far more scope than initially anticipated.