I seem to have developed a real liking for these small American independent films. Since their budgets are tiny, they’re pushed to do more with what they have and are usually daring enough to try some new things. At the same time, they’re still mainstream enough that watching them isn’t too mentally taxing as few people are up for watching truly groundbreaking films all the time. This one was directed by Karyn Kusama who has actually made expensive big budget films before.
Will attends a dinner party with his girlfriend Kira at a nice house in Los Angeles. It emerges that the party is hosted by Will’s ex-wife Eden and her new husband David in the same house that they had previously lived in. The other guests are all old friends of Will and Eden and we learn from their conversations that none of them have seen Eden for the two years since their divorce. Will’s mental state deteriorates over the course of the party and it is revealed that it was their son’s death due to an accident that caused their divorce. He becomes increasingly suspicious especially after Eden and David admit that they have been inducted into a cult in Mexico and that their two new friends also at the party are also members. He notes that the house has newly installed iron bars on the windows and that David keeps the doors locked. The other guests believe that Will is overreacting but even they get shocked when one of David’s cultist friends admits that he has been convicted and jailed for accidentally killing his wife.
As one of those films that are shot with unknown actors in a single enclosed locale, The Invitation stands or falls solely on the performers’ acting ability and its writing. For the most part, I think it’s a success. There’s plenty of tension as we wonder along with Will what the big secret is and when the shoe fall because we’re sure it certainly must. The director plays with this as the other guests become more and more convinced that Will is losing it and it’s so effective that I even started to doubt myself. I believe this is also an example of what seems like a growing trend of having characters who are genre aware. Will behaves in all respects as if he knows that he is in a thriller movie and sees malice behind every gesture and every word. It’s probably too on the nose but after a lifetime of watching thrillers with characters who are stupid and so careless about their personal safety that you want to scream at them, it’s a lot of fun to watch a protagonist who over-compensates in the opposite direction.
As usual the film becomes much less interesting once the shit does hit the fan and blood starts to flow but thankfully the director manages to hold off this moment until the very end and allows it to play out quickly. I also liked that she subverts the trope that there can only be one survivor (usually a woman) or one surviving couple (a man and a woman). All in all, don’t expect any award winning material in here but this is fine entertainment that doesn’t treat the audience as if they were dumb and is made by a competent cast and crew all around.