There were several interesting & noteworthy horror films released in 2016, including the eerie, offbeat drama The Witch (see my review here: http://jveclectic.blogspot.com/2016/10/october-scares-movie-witch.html), the claustrophobic thriller Don’t Breathe, the creepy anthology Southbound, and the "end of the world is nigh" story 10 Cloverfield Lane. One of the more intriguing movies in the genre was a compact little suspense tale entitled The Invitation. The story concerns a couple, Will & Kira, who are invited to attend a gathering of friends hosted by Will’s ex-wife Eden & her new husband, David. Initially, it seems like this will be an evening of fun, food, wine & renewing old friendships. But there are darker things just under the surface of this seemingly innocent dinner party. Through flashbacks, we learn that Will & Eden lost a child, which eventually splintered & ended their marriage. Eden & David have decided to gather the group together to re-unite them & re-connect their relationships. Seems harmless enough, doesn't it?
Along with a couple of the other guests, Pruitt & Sadie, the hosts have joined a group called “The Invitation” which Eden says has helped her work through her grief over the loss of her son, and made a huge difference in her life. As the night goes on, David & Eden encourage the group to participate in some games including a confessional one called “I Want” where you can openly admit to something you want, with no repercussions. The couple wants everyone to understand how the "The Invitation" has helped bring clarity & peace to their lives. Will starts to notice that things are a little odd; it seems like David & Eden want to keep everyone at the house; the doors are locked, and there are bars on the windows. Their friend Pruitt casually admits to having “accidentally” killed his wife, but has dealt with his feelings about it via the help of “The Invitation” and its founder, Dr. Joseph. According to Pruitt, he longer feels any guilt for what happened.
Will keeps seeing David, Eden, Sadie & Pruitt act strangely, but none of their other friends believe him. Whenever he questions what’s going on, David or Eden assures him everything is fine, and that his own grief is influencing his anxiety. Another friend of theirs is missing and hasn’t shown up, and Will assumes their hosts know something about it. No one can get a good cell signal, because the house is way up in the Hollywood Hills. When the tension at the party ratchets up further, an incident occurs that indicates that Will could have been right all along. But just what is going on? Do David & Eden have another agenda? Just what is “The Invitation?” A cult? Or something far more deadly?
I’ve tried not to give too much away here, because part of the fun is watching the story unfold in Phil Hay & Matt Manfredi’s well-written script. It’s a slow burn type of story, but patient viewers will be rewarded with some terrifying revelations in the final section of the film. The excellent direction is by Karyn Kusama, who has also helmed Girlfight (2000), and episodes of TV series such as Halt & Catch Fire & The Man in the High Castle. She keeps the atmosphere unsettling throughout the movie, and makes us question what's happening during the evening. Like Will’s character, we’re never quite sure if we’re misinterpreting what we're seeing, or if there is something very wrong at this party. Maybe Will & Kira shouldn't have accepted this invite after all.
The cast is very effective, including Logan Marshall Green as Will, Tammy Blanchard as Eden, and the fine character actor John Carroll Lynch (The Walking Dead, many other series & movies) as Pruitt. The Invitation is an atmospheric, mutli-layered thriller that’s worth viewing for fans looking for something a little different in their horror film fare. I enjoyed the movie, and I recommend it to genre fans. It's an intense tale and an intriguing look at just what might be behind the mask of a different type of self help guru & his very offbeat philosophy. While the movie ultimately offers no tidy resolutions, the ending is all the more terrifying because there are no easy answers. The Invitation is now available on DVD & Blu-ray, and for streaming on Netflix. Here’s a link to the trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gzm2IN6esc4.