The Invitation (2015) Movie Review

The Invitation is a 2015 American horrorthriller film directed by Karyn Kusama and written by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi. The film stars Logan Marshall-Green, Tammy Blanchard, Michiel Huisman, and Emayatzy Corinealdi. The Invitation premiered March 13, 2015, at the SXSW film festival, and began a limited release on April 8, 2016, and through video on demand, by Drafthouse Films. Responding to an invitation from his ex-wife, a man brings his girlfriend to a dinner party. There, he relives the trauma of their child’s death and becomes suspicious that his ex-wife has ulterior motives for inviting him.

Plot

Will drives with his new girlfriend Kira to the Hollywood Hills home of his ex-wife Eden, who is hosting a dinner party with her new husband David. Will and Eden divorced while trying to cope with their young son Ty’s accidental death. Eden met David at a grief support group, and their party will be the first time any of their friends have seen the couple in over two years. On the way to the party, Will mercy-kills a coyote after striking it with his car.

Will and Kira arrive. David and Eden’s other dinner guests are Tommy, Tommy’s boyfriend Miguel, and friends Ben, Claire, and Gina. Gina mentions that her boyfriend Choi is running late. Eden introduces Sadie, a girl she and David met while in Mexico who is now staying with them.

Throughout the evening, Will wanders his former home alone and relives memories related to Ty’s death, including Eden’s attempted suicide. In the kitchen, Will witnesses Eden slap Ben when he makes a joke about her New Age ideas on expelling pain. Eden and David’s friend Pruitt arrives. Will notices that David locked the front door. Will later goes for firewood and spies Eden hide a pill bottle through her bedroom window.

David and Eden tell their guests about a group they joined along with Pruitt and Sadie called “The Invitation” to work through grief using spiritual philosophy. David shows everyone a video in which group leader Dr. Joseph comforts a dying woman as she takes her last breaths. David turns away unseen visitors and explains they were strangers looking for a party nearby. The group play a game of “I Want” where Eden kisses Ben, and Pruitt confesses to accidentally killing his wife and doing time in prison. David tries to stop an unsettled Claire from leaving, and Will confronts David. Claire leaves, accompanied by Pruitt, whose car is blocking Claire’s. Will watches Pruitt take Claire out of sight to talk to her, and David confronts Will about being too suspicious.

During dinner, Will internally reflects on Ty’s death. While walking through a hallway, Will sees Sadie make odd faces into a mirror, and they have a strange poolside conversation. Will has a separate discussion with Tommy about the odd atmosphere in the house. Will finally gets a cell phone signal and finds a voice mail from Choi indicating that he was at Eden and David’s doorstep before the other guests. Presuming that David and Eden must have done something to Choi, Will publicly confronts the couple about their apparent cult brainwashing. Choi enters unexpectedly, explaining that he was called away by work. Will is embarrassed, but the others assume his residual grief over Ty’s death is causing Will to behave irrationally.

Will finds a laptop with information about The Invitation and their true motives: to create peace through death. David pours drinks for the guests. Will smashes the glasses, fearing they are poisoned. However, Gina drinks hers before Will smashes it. Sadie attacks Will who inadvertently knocks her unconscious in the scuffle. Gina suddenly collapses and dies, revealing that Will was right about the drinks. David, Eden, and Pruitt attack the guests, killing Miguel, Choi, and Ben. Will, Kira, and Tommy flee and hide in the house. Will overhears David telling Eden that what they are doing is the only way they can leave the earth and be freed from their pain. Will retrieves a fireplace poker from Sadie while she lies dying from apparently drinking the poison.

Pruitt finds and attacks Will and Kira. The couple overpower him, and Kira beats him to death. Eden shoots Will then shoots herself in the stomach, severely wounding herself. Tommy attacks David and stabs him to death in a brief scuffle. As she dies, Eden asks Will to come to her in her final moments. Kira, Will, and Tommy reunite and head outside with the dying Eden. Kira and Will hear sirens and see helicopters flying above. Will sees various homes with the same red lantern that David lit earlier in the evening. Will realizes that Los Angeles is erupting in chaos as other cult members throughout the city carry out plans similar to David and Eden’s.

My Personal Thoughts

‘The Invitation’ ending isn’t ambiguous, but it also offers no closure. As Will and Kira conquer the battle, the ending shots draw them against a war that will be difficult to win. The camp that Eden and David visited was a cult-ritual gathering that brainwashed the two, and apparently, thousands of others, to ‘scientifically’ heal the soul. Pruitt and Sadie are members too, helping the hosts take their victims. The great part about ‘The Invitation’ is that it plays with its suspense. The transition of suspense from Hitchcock to the modern-era has been refreshing. While more often than not suspense thrillers play on the idea of the unknown and what’s next to come, ‘The Invitation’s ending is inevitable; we know what will happen, and yet are intrigued till the last minute. The movie plays on the known and draws us in with how it will all end.

The transcendence from a conscious to sub-conscious existence is at the core of the camp’s ideology or method to heal, which basically translates into killing yourself. It is sugar-coated with all gibberish like ‘you’ve made a choice’ and ‘renounced all grief and pain’. But in the end, its entirety depends on the sacrifice, and God knows what follows after. Eden is a grieving mother whose loss of an only child was an overwhelming feeling, one which she hasn’t been able to cope with. Separated from her husband, Eden desperately looks for a mechanism to relieve herself from the pain and anguish and is led to the camp with David. Will, on the other hand, has a different life altogether, detached from his former world. It is only when he returns to the house that the feelings inundate him with guilt and repentance.

The ending comes alive from the moment Eden pours glasses with poisoned wine. The mix of nervousness and joy blanks her face and is a forewarning of what is to come. The movie springs to life and every little action of the characters in the middle starts making sense. The locked doors; the red lantern; the pills; the no-reception. Credit has to be given to Kusama the way she constructs the ending and blocks it. All the four enablers are positioned in a patronizing manner, giving us the feeling of being watched over. It remains to see if the producers come up with a sequel anytime soon, because, with the climax that we witnessed, stakes are high for a continuance.

The red lanterns in the neighborhood could mean that the members of the cult had selected a particular day to carry out the executions. After all, every reform needs a plan. And given how ‘scientific’ the whole endeavor is, organization and planning can be a presumed notion in the ending. People like Sadie and Pruitt, who belong to the cult, or are hailed as outsiders, might be assigned neighborhood to neighborhood for ensuring that their plan of mass killings goes ahead successfully. The ending also beckons a question: can the human mind be influenced so easily?

Much like religion, cults also derive their power from people’s vulnerabilities and superstitions. The very existence of a supernatural or supreme entity embeds in the conscience of people a natural fear and habitual obedience. The helicopters and chaos, in the end, points to an acute deficiency in human faculty to efficiently differentiate between delusional and rational.

While natural law is certainly the compass that governs us all, the involvement of the human hand in its proceedings makes it impure and takes away its original form and shape. Kusama metaphorically explores the theme through Sadie. The first impression that one gets seeing her is that of having been brain-washed and misled. Extracting obedience from such a person is fairly easy, thus enabling detractors to manipulate them to achieve much more diabolical ends. She’s like one of those conduits, or props, in a bigger, much more inhumane narrative, that constantly tries to fall itself in the ascendancy and overthrow the natural order. ‘The Invitation’ is steady in not overplaying the concept and strikes a perfect balance, walking the line between metaphysical frippery and subtle, contextual realism with envious level-headedness. Overall, ‘The Invitation’ is a more than impressive effort and certainly a movie that lays out great potential for the modern-redefined meaning of horror cinema.

Directed byKaryn Kusama
Produced by Phil Hay Matt Manfredi Martha Griffin Nick Spicer
Written by Phil Hay Matt Manfredi
Starring Logan Marshall-Green Tammy Blanchard Michiel Huisman Emayatzy Corinealdi Lindsay Burdge Michelle Krusiec Mike Doyle Jay Larson John Carroll Lynch
Music byTheodore Shapiro
CinematographyBobby Shore
Edited byPlummy Tucker
Production
company
Gamechanger Films Lege Artis XYZ Films
Distributed byDrafthouse Films
Release date March 13, 2015 (SXSW) April 8, 2016 (United States)
Running time100 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$1 million
Box office$354,835

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