The Invitation establishes itself as one of the better psycho-thrillers to have surfaced in recent years.
One of the real finds of last year’s St. Louis International Film Festival was a lone screening of The Invitation, a psycho-thriller directed by St. Louis native Karyn Kusama (whose credits as director include Girlfight and Jennifer’s Body) and acquired for U.S. distribution by reliable genre specialists Drafthouse Films. The psycho-thriller as a genre is one of those where, when they work they’re hugely enjoyable, but sadly they rarely work. With that in mind, I’m happy to report that The Invitation works.
Our lead is Will (Logan Marshall-Green), a kind-looking but also obviously troubled man. He’s going to a dinner party with his girlfriend Kira (rising star Emayatzy Corinealdi, of Miles Ahead and Middle of Nowhere), and a lot of the stress of the dinner party comes from the fact that it is being thrown by Will’s ex Eden (Tammy Blanchard), with whom Will shares a hinted-at troubled past, and Eden’s new husband David (Michiel Huisman). It being a dinner party, there are plenty of other guests there to distract attention from Will’s hesitation, but of course, other people bring other problems (just ask Sartre)—some guests seem as or more freaked out than what Will is, and of course, a couple of the guests create reasons to worry on top of the ones that are already there.
Part of the stress of the situation comes from the fact that Eden has been off of the map for a while, and the invitation to the dinner party is the first Will has heard from her in some years. When he arrives, he finds her to be acting strange, as if with a false enlightenment, and as everyone knows if you’re stressed relentless cheeriness serves only to exacerbate the situation, especially when coupled with strangeness.
The Invitation is a chamber piece, nearly all taking place in a large, isolated house in Los Angeles. Kusama does good work in keeping it from ever feeling like a filmed play, though; she plays claustrophobia effectively and opens up the location when the need arises. Our leads are all appropriately effective, and the large supporting cast often find ways to make their mark as well—it’s no surprise that of them the most memorable is John Carroll Lynch, as an alarming late arrival to the soiree, who has been honing his hard-to-pin-down creepiness since his turn in 2007’s Zodiac.
If you’re seeing a movie like The Invitation in the theatre in the first place, I would expect that, like me, you’re already averse to social gatherings, metaphysical enlightenment, weird people being near you, etc. The Invitation is wise to play on these fears and establishes itself as one of the better psycho-thrillers to have surfaced in recent years. | Pete Timmermann
The Invitation opens on Friday, April 22, exclusively at the Chase Park Plaza Cinemas. Ms. Kusama will be present for a Q&A with the audience after the 7:20 p.m. show on Saturday, 4/23, as well as the 2:50 p.m. show on Sunday, 4/24.