Stars: Logan Marshall-Green, Tammy Blanchard, John Carroll Lynch, Michelle Krusiec, Aiden Lovekamp, Mike Doyle, Jordi Vilasuso, Marieh Delfino, Jay Larson, Emayatzy Corinealdi, Michiel Huisman | Written by Matt Manfredi, Phil Hay | Directed by Karyn Kusama
Karyn Kusama’s latest film sells you the whole seat, but you’ll only need the edge.
Written by Matt Manfredi and Phil Hay, and directed by Kusama (Jennifer’s Body), The Invitation stars Logan Marshall-Green as Will, a man whose ex-wife, Eden, invites him to a dinner party two years after she mysteriously vanished. Eden is acting incredibly strange, at least in Will’s eyes, and peculiar goings-on lead him to suspect that she and her new boyfriend may have sinister intentions for their guests.
The best horror films play around with very relatable human emotions, and like recent Australian hit The Babadook, grief lies at the center of The Invitation. Early on the film, various hints suggest that something very traumatic happened in Will and Eden’s past, and it’s clear that they’re dealing with that lingering trauma in very different ways – so much so that Will is unsettled by how carefree his ex-wife seems to be. Grief makes people do crazy things, and oh boy do things get crazy at this dinner party.
The brilliance of The Invitation lies not so much in the way information is delivered, but rather in the way it is withheld. We don’t know exactly what happened between Will and Eden until Kusama wants us to, and we spend much of the film completely in the dark about pretty much everything. Like Will, who is seemingly the only reliable person at the party, we can’t be sure if we’re merely paranoid about the hosts or if we should be terrified about what they’re planning, and even more uncomfortably, there comes a point where we can’t even be sure that Will is the character whose side we want to be on.
All of this crucial information is masterfully withheld throughout the majority of The Invitation, and though in the hands of a less seasoned filmmaker that could easily backfire and sever one’s interest in the story, Kusama and the writers walk that tight rope so effortlessly that I can’t imagine that being the case for anyone with an interest in slow-burn, character-driven horror. What they’ve crafted here is a master class in edge-of-your-seat suspense, and the rare horror film that has the power to truly horrify.
As psychologically terrifying as The Invitation turns out to be, whether that horror is just underneath the surface of an otherwise cheerful exterior or staring us directly in the eyes, it’s in no rush to get to that point, and perhaps the film’s greatest strong suit lies in that restraint. The whole film operates as effectively as an emotionally complex drama as it does a horror movie, and it’s for this reason that when the horror elements do rear their ugly head, well, let’s just say you won’t soon forget the final act.
Often without saying much at all, Logan Marshall-Green conveys every bit of skepticism and unresolved grief that Will is dealing with inside of himself, making it very easy to understand where he’s coming from at all times. On the flip side, Tammy Blanchard is pitch-perfectly fragile as Eden, a character whose jovial thirst for life is more off-putting and concerning than it is comforting – and when we do find out the truth about her, it’s almost concerning how much we understand her motives. John Carroll Lynch makes a big impression with the smaller role of Pruitt, a new friend of Eden’s who has a dark past.
A fairly straightforward story told in the most compelling way imaginable, The Invitation is horror at its most genuinely haunting, the kind of movie that sticks with you long after the end credits roll across the screen and the DVD has been removed from your player. Even after the story reaches its conclusion, Karyn Kusama throws in one more shocker of a reveal that adds a whole new layer of horror to the proceedings, and the final shot is one of the most deeply chilling in the entire history of the genre.
When it comes to The Invitation, it’s better to go in knowing nothing than to even have minor details spoiled for you, so be sure to see this one before anyone has the chance to ruin it for you.
Simply put, it’s one of the best films, horror or otherwise, that 2016 has thus far given us.