Everyone has sat through an uncomfortable moment at a dinner party. Whether that party is with your wife’s friends, trying to impress your boss, or another Thanksgiving, there are going to be little moments that you can expect to go poorly. Someone will tell an off color joke, great political minds will express their opinions, or a parent will question every decision you’ve made in your life. Thankfully, these moments pass quickly and the only thing lost is a little respect. Things could be much worse. Karyn Kusama brings the worst case scenario to light in The Invitation.
The premise is simple; Will (Logan Marshall-Green) and his girlfriend Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi) accept an invitation to a dinner party by his ex-wife, Eden (Tammy Blanchard) and new husband, David (Michiel Huisman). It’s been years since Will and Eden have split due to tragedy in their lives and Eden disappeared. She’s back and ready to reconnect with old friends, but she’s brought some new faces. While the group welcomes each other with excitement, it is Will who can not shake an uneasy feeling. The past lurks in every room in his old house. Memories flood back, good and bad.
Will’s flashbacks are tense. Each flashback shines another light on the ex-couple’s dark history. We understand why Eden had to flee. She was emotionally distraught and looked for comfort with a group in Mexico called The Invitation led by fellow guest Pruitt (John Carroll Lynch). The evening progresses with drinks, an uncomfortable game, and what is essentially a recruitment video from The Invitation. Kusama does an excellent job at keeping the cards close to her chest. The tension builds, something is not quite right. Will begins to question the evening’s proceedings, and a missing friend. Because we see this evening mostly through the eyes of Will, Kusama convinces us that something sinister is happening. When things blow up in Will’s face the audience is left feeling lost. Maybe we’ve jumped to conclusions. The movie shifts to be on Will’s insecurity and grief. Maybe the loss he’s suffered in his life has made him paranoid.
At this point Kusama’s slow burn bursts into flames. So much happens that discussing it here would deprive the gut punch of the final moments. The remaining images of the film leave the audience with an uneasy feeling that the entire movie has been leading to. This ending may not be one of hope, but it is well deserved. It’s shocking, and inevitable. That’s the best way to describe The Invitation. The moments are uncomfortable, the outcome is unthinkable, and yet once everything is done, it is not surprising. When a person suffers unspeakable grief, any source of comfort can make sense. Kusama, with the help of Logan Marshall-Green and Tammy Blanchard, masterfully brings us into this world and explores grief and how it can affect everyone.