Even in the midst of a pandemic, the holidays — for some — are a time where loved ones can gather, converse, laugh, catch up on lost time, reconnect.
For some, that is.
For others, an evening get-together might be one of the most uncomfortable ways you could spend your time.
Karyn Kusomo’s The Invitation would fall into the latter category. And you won’t find a more terrifyingly fantastic way to spend your evening than to let this slow burn of a horror film enthrall you with the unsettling reveal that this film is able to master right before its inevitable conclusion.
Karyn Kusomo’s The Invitation is a movie with quite a simple premise. A man named Will (Logan Marshall-Green) and his girlfriend are invited to a dinner invitation by William’s ex-wife, Eden (Tammy Blanchard) and her boyfriend David (Michiel Huisman). The dinner takes place in their lavish LA hill home, and several of Eden and Will’s friends are also present. However it’s not just a simple dinner party.
At the very beginning of the movie the audience is treated to the unsettling music and cold palette of colors set up the perfect, highly strung, macabre atmosphere for this film. Even though the premise seems rather innocent, Kusama’s masterful use of the creepy strings in the score or deliberate camerawork urges the audience to remain on the edge of their seats as they follow along the slow burn.
We learn rather soon in the film that something tragic happened between Will and Eden that caused their divorce. After their son passed away, the couple understandably went through very hard times which resulted in Will not seeing Eden or any of their friend group in two years. When Will receives an invitation to the dinner party hosted by Will and David, her new boyfriend, he’s undoubtedly curious. After all, it’s been two years since he’s detached himself from his old surroundings. He takes his girlfriend, Kira, along to the get-together and then the discomfort begins.
Eden appears to be a completely new person. Reinvented. Enlightened. And according to her, for the better. She claims she met David at a retreat to Sonora, Mexico, where they spent time with a ‘group’ called the Invitation. With all of the preaching about journeys to a better place, being with loved ones, accepting grief and somehow becoming an entirely new person, Will and the audience have every right to suspect that something, something much deeper than just a simple dinner party, is going on.
And Kusomo succeeds through her subtlety. What begins as seemingly harmless slowly becomes more sinister over the course of the evening. When Will asks about the bars that adorn the windows and protect the house, it’s only then that we see that the windows are on the inside of the house. Suddenly, your safety is now in jeopardy, and the evening builds in similar ways by both withholding information and providing information only when it would be most unsettling to do so.
Through Will’s perspective we experience such an intense build up that it totally makes the last 20 minutes of pure adrenaline so rewarding. During the uncomfortable dinner party, the camera work helps the audience become enthralled with what is going on. We know off the bat that Will is our main character, but the camera work cements that. It follows Will and shows us, the audience, the events through his perspective. An occurring theme, isolation, is also exemplified in how the camera always shows Will isolated from the rest of his friend group. It’s always him shown standing awkwardly off the side or watching the activities from a distance. But not from too far. Since the camera is always following Will and Will’s perspective only, the audience is also in a sense, stuck inside the house, creating this sense of urgency and discomfort brought upon by the close confined place. Will’s character is also a key component to the impressive way the audience is drawn into the movie.
Will reflects what the audience feels. As we question what is going on, so too does Will. As Will becomes more and more tense, so too do we.
Another component that helps the intense build up is the score. Although quite simple and spare, the perfect amount of music is included at the right times. More often than not, it was a distressing rising crescendo of violins. That’s the gist. To be frank, there wasn’t much music. There were plenty of scenes where it was completely and utterly quiet, or where there were just ambiance noises but Kusama used the uncomfortable silences to masterfully create this realistic, disconcerting atmosphere that was consistent throughout the movie.
Despite being classified as a horror movie, The Invitation stands out in the fact that it doesn’t rely on cheap jump scares or scary monsters to spook the audience. Its sophisticated, subtle, yet somehow almost suffocating build up that’s the essence of the movie. “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey,” some would say, and the adage works incredibly well with this film. Although the heavy action-packed last 20 minutes can be considered the star of the show, it wouldn’t be as monumental without the brilliant pacing.
Overall, if you’re in need of a distraction during these troubling times, The Invitation is a clever, accomplished film that will have no problem enthralling you.
The Invitation is rated R.
Mariel Herrera is a staff writer for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl