★★★.5 out of ★★★★★
SOMETHING. DOES. NOT. FEEL. RIGHT. We’ve all been there, right?
A friend invites you to this super cool party. You have a couple beers. Talk to some interesting people. Then out comes the Amway sales pitch. “You just need to scrape together a couple grand and you get to the second tier on the pyramid. Really.” This doesn’t seem right.
You casually stroll to the grocery store. Upon entry you see your neighbor who you’ve been feuding with for years. You look away hoping to not make eye contact. “Hey! I see you there trying to avoid eye contact. I’ve got a bone to pick with you! Right here. Right now. In the grocery store!” This doesn’t seem right.
“Hey, could you check out this thing on my back?” uncharacteristically asks your cousin. “I swear to god this thing has been on my back for ever, but now it’s hot and leaking. I think something is trying to climb out of my skin.” This doesn’t seem right.
2015’s The Invitation puts forth this very premise with purposeful aplomb. Over and over and over. Not in a dull, drab, and boring way, but in a rather compelling way that will have you guessing until the end — or at least 80 percent through the film. Directed by Karyn Kusama, The Invitation follows Will (played extra-superbly by Logan Marshall-Green) who’s been invited to his ex-wife Eden’s house for a dinner party. He’s received a really ornate invite, his girlfriend is understandably not super-keen on attending the party, and Will is forced to kill a coyote that they accidentally hit on the way to the party. This doesn’t seem right.
Will and his new girlfriend Kira (also superbly played by Emayatzy Corinealdi) arrive at the party and are greeted by an almost believable group of multi-cultural-super-attractive gaggle of Will’s former homies. The Invitation deftly teases out the reason for Will and his ex-wife’s separation, the reason he hasn’t seen the old gang for a hot second, and why he might be willing to attend such a lavish party. But this isn’t just a party for his former friends, his ex-wife, and her new lover…oh no. There’s others. Eden has been spending a lot of time in Mexico with her new friends and they’ve found “the way” forward to a new reality. They assure Will and his friends that it’s not a cult, it’s not religious, but it will help you achieve total bliss. Uh…this doesn’t seem right.
After opulent amounts of the best food and drink the group decides to play a game. Sort of a twist on the parlor game I Never. But in this case you’re not supposed to disclose an I Never statement, but an I Want statement. People disclose that they want cocaine, oral sex, to be loved, etc. Not too weird. Then one of Eden’s new friends discloses that he killed his wife and he wants her back. He also discloses that he did prison time, but that he desperately wants to see her again. The dinner guests, and in particular, Will, begin to become leery of the evening. But the wine and eats keeps luring them back in. All the while, Will has a permanently plastered look on his face that suggests “…this doesn’t seem right.”
Throughout the film Will is wrought with emotion. Being back in his former home. Dealing with the tragedy that beset he and Eden. And being reunited with his closest friends. As a result his emotional scale plausibly flip-flops between sadness and a heaping dose of mistrust for Eden and her new cult-ish friends. The tension continues on through the film to the point where even his closet friends begin to think that his aversion to the part is unnatural, but it’s not…
The Invitation is a slow build — for sure. But that’s what make’s it so great. You’re forced to simultaneously peer in to Will’s brain, and ask whether you’d be so suspicious and cagey about your ex-wife’s new found interest in after-life-kinda-cult-y behaviors. The repetition of this push-pull dynamic between guessing whether Will is nuts with grief vs. justifiably skeptical about cults is what fuels the dramatic tension. The manufactured tension is done exceptionally well and when it explodes, it’s a mighty eruption. The Invitation ends in a rather bleak, yet hopeful way and it’s safe to say that Directed by Karyn Kusama really knows her way around a story. To be able to convey such polemic emotions in one scene is quite the skill and Ms. Kusama handles it well. If you’ve ever thought about joining a cult, go see The Invitation. It’ll cure you of those interests, and it might just cure you of wanting to go to L.A. Because L.A.’s kind of one big cult anyway, right?