The Invitation (2015)

United States
Director: Karyn Kusama
Writers: Phil Hay & Matt Manfredi
Available on Netflix

The friends in the gather in the living room before dinner.

In the hands of any other director, The Invitation could have been a downright goofy film. Instead, it is one of the most unsettling horror films to have come out in years. It touches some feep dread that runs under grief. The story is about human relationships without jealousy, but running on fear and regret. The story shocks and strangles its audience in the subtlest of ways… and still leaves one in its last moment with that telltale chill creeping down the spine.

The story swirls around the tension between Will (Logan Marshall-Green) and Eden (Tammy Blanchard). The couple have divorced after the loss of their child, which is slowly revealed while they interact somewhat awkwardly with old friends and their partners, Will’s girlfriend Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi) and Eden’s boyfriend David (Michiel Huisman). Eden and David have invited their oldest friends, and Eden’s ex husband, over for an elaborate dinner party.

A triumph of this film is the ability to communicate both the intimacy of the friends and the strength of the newly forged relationships by Will and Eden. It would have been easy to play off Kira and David as flings or new to the circle of friends, but every interpersonal relationships is instead played to its highest key before plunging us straight into the depths of the movie’s central despair.

Part of the sumptuous feast laid out by Eden and David for their guests.

The Invitation immerses us in the sensory feast of California living. The house is a midcentury LA classic. The guests drink expensive wine and eat an incredible dinner. All of the details are carefully upscaled so the audience is focusing breathlessly every which way at once to make sure we are not missing anything, increasing the tension and suspense.

The script sets up a classic story of old friends meeting up after lapsed relationships. Their bonds run deep, and at first the house could have been any house for a reunion. But beyond even the familial trauma undertones that act as a catalyst for the true horrors of the evening, every element of the setting is used: The pool, the steps, the open layout that includes a balcony to open up both the rest of the house and move the plot forward.

On top of this, the house itself is positioned in the Hollywood Hills. The house design itself and the overall feeling of ease and wealth of everyone in attendance at the get together certainly plays into the ensuing fear. Beyond that, the final shot in the film could not have been achieved anywhere else in the world.

Like so many truly surprising movies, talking too much about the classic horror elements in this plot both gives too much away and removes the effectiveness of the build up. Just know that the horror does happen. But it is a film that would have been just as good had it stopped suddenly. We begin wondering just what exactly is going on: have we entered a party of swingers, a new wave cult, a circle of friends with unspoken tensions seething subcutaneously? And we end not quite sure we want to know what happens next as the scope of the story is thrust very suddenly outside of the quiet confines of the comfy California home and into the world at large.

After this, watch: Hereditary (2018), Beatriz at Dinner (2017), The Housemaid (2010), Hungry Wives (1972)

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