The Invitation is a film that you want to walk into knowing as little about as possible, almost to the point where I want you to discontinue reading this review until you’ve seen it despite the positive remarks I have for it. Will (Logan Marshall-Green) has been invited to dinner party thrown by his ex-wife Eden (Tammy Blanchard) and her boyfriend David (Michiel Huisman), both of whom nobody has seen or talked to in two years. The house is filled with bad memories and regrets for Will, as the tragic death of his and Eden’s son led to the disintegration of their relationship. The randomness of this dinner party and circumstances throughout the night keep Will on edge, a creeping paranoia that everybody at this dinner party is there for a much more sinister reason.
Something is not right, but what? It’s in the way the hosts act, they just don’t seem natural, it’s almost like they’re playing “human.” Karyn Kusama’s latest film rides on this tension playfully for its taut runtime. The fact that this is her first film in 7 years serves as a prime microcosmic example of the systemic sexism in the film industry that buries talent like the one she clearly has.
The performances in the core are strong. Logan Marshall-Green has spent his career as a poor man’s Tom Hardy, which probably isn’t fair to say, but he hasn’t done much to make his presence distinctive. He begins to in The Invitation. He wears grief and regret well, weighing him down as much as his pronounced beard does. Tammy Blanchard does a good job at playing a vulnerable sort of evasive in Eden, hiding the tragedy of her past in a calculative mask in her interactions.
Michiel Huisman is delightfully just a few steps away from camp in his scenes for much of the first half, subtly tuning into an off setting sinister persona as the film progresses. There is sort of a natural, calming swagger in Huisman that’s put to great use here, catching you off guard in scenes that result in pervasive, if enjoyable, discomfort. 6th man MVP John Carroll Lynch gives a highlight performance, delivering an incredibly unsettling monologue at the midpoint of the film with a strange mixture of muted emotion and pathos.
The Invitation does suffer significant issues, despite being worth it all in the end. Many scenes of dialogue feel as if they are there just to beef up the runtime rather explore the characters or maneuver the tension. Conversations stagnate, reiterating points and character traits that have already been gone over. It’s like being trapped at a house party where people just keep talking about the same thing. Hey, maybe that’s the point?
Kusama takes more time than necessary to get to the goods, but once she does the feeling is almost transcendent. It’s edge-of-your-seat storytelling, as paranoia topples into fact and all hell breaks loose. All bets are off, and all expectations are upended in the final minutes. The tightness with which Kusama has been keeping her framing boils over as well, the camera work getting as frenetic as the actions we’re witnessing. It’s exhilarating in ways we wish more films were. Let’s just hope we don’t have to wait another 7 years for a followup from Kusama, because the final act of the The Invitation made me glad I showed up.