Karyn Kusama’s THE INVITATION (2015) is eerily poetic connecting its seductively almost paralyzing ambiance, to what I imagine it feels like to be in a sedated juncture of elevated sorrow. Sorrow being the big bad wolf in this decadent, psychological tale of a couple hosting a dinner party with a small group of close friends they hadn’t seen in two years, all secluded in the Hollywood Hills. Doesn’t it sounds like a Manson-cultish-holy-hell-of-a-dinner-party? This film oozes of subtlety and it’s strangely gratifying. The opening sequence, for instance, has that profound foreshadowing factor with the coyote getting hit by a car. Let’s break that image apart for a second. From an introspective approach, it leaves me with the question: Does one get back up after being critically left wounded or ultimately waste away in their own misery and pain which eventually results in death?
How does one cope with grief? By facing reality, but also enlisting an absurd alternative disguised as some trippy coping mechanism to relieve one’s self of pain. As one of the characters in the film states, “Pain is optional.” Interesting sentiment. Being not afraid, letting go of fear while showing the “I’m all better smile” when in fact there’s something intensely vile and detrimentally disturbing lurking beneath the surface makes for intriguing subject matter. I have a fierce appetite for digging behind the façade of things. This film is the equivalent of me being a kid in a yummy ice cream store.
Eden (Tammy Blanchard) is an overly charming hostess of this dinner party who happens to be the ex-wife of Will (Logan Marshall-Green) who seems to be instinctually aware something is not quite right knowing full well he faces his own demons, which are consequently embedded in his life almost like it has this prisoner of war effect on him. He hasn’t moved on from something horrific but Eden has. We see this displayed on their facial expressions, and sometimes a rush of explicit fashionably tailored flashbacks that sticks to the psychological-thriller formula of “less is more”.
The imagery here, is quite pristine in how it captures certain elements the viewer has to pay attention to specifically when we learn what the invitation means or even wardrobe wise, Eden’s long white dress, totally hints at something along the lines of “purity of the soul” Perhaps, the images aren’t all as it seems but in fact made to make you question what lurks behind such a false truth. This film is not the blatant hand-feed the audience plot line, here. Thank God! Thriller yes, with a side of horror and trust me when you first sit down to watch this you’ll think hmm it’s just a bunch of adults having multiple conversations with awkward feelings thrown into the mix as they copious drink their expensive wine. Just wait for it.
The dialogue builds to something, and even in the actions of David (Michiel Huisman) Eden’s new beau and co dinner-host, who mysteriously locks all the doors, as Will notices the bars on the windows. When questioned, David sly says it’s for protection from all the crazy break-ins that have been occurring in their neighborhood. Okay, fair enough but does Will believe him? Would you believe him?
The Manson-cultish tone certainly has a thin influence to this dinner party, such as when the commentary about expensive wine is discussed, which is enhanced by the close up shots of red wine being poured into their guests’ glasses, and even watching them indulge in it’s decadent aromas is hypnotic. Makes me suspicious and question about accepting wine at dinner parties now. Damn, I really do love a great cabernet.
What brings this story to it’s center aside from it’s distinct imagery, is the provocative way stories are told, inching us closer to something that’s loosely unspoken. These characters Eden, David, Pruitt, and the obscure lady they bring from Mexico gravitate to a specific truth and hold on to it like some life preserve and they want to share that with their close friends. It’s their new hope, their mantra into getting through the hardest, darkest moments of their lives and when someone questions the validity of such a notion things go array in a fierce-some way.
A strong point is how these four characters share their deepest desires, and also dark secrets about their past grievances of guilt, especially Pruitt (John Carroll Lynch) who reveals how he accidentally killed his wife and went to prison for it. What a heavy confession to share at a dinner party! Even as this visceral assertion of locked windows, dark secrets, and the mystery of why one of their dinner guests hasn’t arrived yet builds the tension. There’s so many great hints, built in the actions around these dinner guest, especially when one of the female friend leaves after hearing Pruitt’s story. She’s clearly uncomfortable and we’re never told or see what results from this. Very interesting.
Will is certain something wrong and accuses Eden and David. The entire dinner party looks at him like he’s lost his mind and when Choi (the late dinner guest) finally arrives, Will doubts himself and betrays his instinct momentarily. It’s like having the wind knocked out of your sails, and you just want to collapse into a puddle of despair. Will takes a moment to collect himself and question maybe grief has really screwed him up. It would for anyone buddy, you’re not alone!
But as the tables slowly and painfully turn, Will springs back into that fight or flight mode. The realization hits him, wanting to die for something he had no control over in the past makes no sense and now he has to fight to survive because life is a gift and you’d be a damn fool to throw it away. It’s a deep a-ha moment which is threatened when this party turns into a nightmare you just want to scream bloody murder, running for the woods, praying to God there’s someone in a pick-up truck nearby to rescue you. Oh wait that’s the end of TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE.
It’s down right incredible what Kusama does here because it’s not some cheesy sequence you often see in classic, exploitive, horror films, this is a different shiny breed of a style capsulated with authenticity because if you think about it, something like this can actually occur. Set one person off and things can escalate into a heated argument that morphs into something lethal, and that’s bad alas, as Joan Didion said, “Life changes in the instant. The ordinary instant”. But also humans will be humans
In that final sequence, and I won’t give it away but let’s just say one can scrummage up multiple theories in how to interpret such an ending. It’s slick and clever because one can’t surely be sure of what it represents other than the ultimate chill of terror. Think about cults for a second and the history behind their purpose and what justification they use to prescribe to a higher power. I literally had to watch the ending a couple of times because it caught me off guard because I missed something, but it’s absolutely mesmerizing on a grand scale because it’s so freaking subtle. And if there’s one thing I enjoy about films it’s how they disguise and utilize such a subtlety. I don’t want to say much because you have to experience and watch it for yourself, so until then I’m going to awkwardly dance around the subject. And for the record, I’m still scratching my head on what happens to one of the characters, even as I rewound and replayed certain scenes, I’m still left wondering and questioning!
I admire and respect this film as it psychologically messed with my head in all it’s atmospheric power making me question and assume I knew what these characters were going to do, when in fact I was deeply mistaken. Even the lighting of this film gave it an intimate feel which borders on the line of menacing but also something weirdly seductive, as if we’re being lured into this hypnotic trance. I have to say even the brilliance behind the sound design to bring those snippets of flashbacks to life, or how the camera pushes through the dinner table as the presence of time slows down considerably was beautifully captured and how suspense was built cerebrally makes this film surpass an M Night Shyamalan film. Experience this film in all it’s grand subtlety awesomeness. Show it at your next dinner party, I dare you!