Movie Review - The Invitation

The opening scene is one of euthanasia, and in a weird way that's what this movie is ultimately grappling. It's grappling with euthanasia, or the idea that if something is in pain, physical or emotional, it's best to put it out of its misery. If that's the case, the film could have been an interesting dissection of religion and philosophies about life-and-death. Unfortunately, the movie gets muddled in characters whose motivations make no sense or require leaps of logic that traverse Grand Canyon-sized gaps. There are points that director Karyn Kusama presents to us, dots on a kind of map, but neither she nor possibly writers Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi connect those dots to show us how to get to the destination this movie wants us to go.

The poster is a bit of a spoiler as Kusama wants us to think of a glass of wine much in the same way that Alfred Hitchcock wanted us to think of a glass of milk in Suspicion (1941). Instead of a wife's paranoia about her husband, here it's a man's mistrust of his ex-wife and her new boyfriend. The filmmakers expand the Hitchcockian tête-à-tête and play with group dynamics, undermining the maxim that there's safety in numbers.

It also plays with the idea that the recent Oscar-winning Inside Out handled in a more child-like way. The idea is that joy, politeness and love, or all positivity or tranquility might not be what we as humans should strive for. Inside Out made clear that other emotions, even negative emotions like sadness have value and perhaps should be expressed or even embraced.

Logan Marshall-Green (Prometheus and Devil) stars as Will, a man who is attending a dinner party in the Hollywood hills. He's going with his girlfriend Kira, played by Emayatzy Corinealdi (Middle of Nowhere). The issue is that the party is hosted by Will's ex-wife Eden, played by Emmy-winner and Tony Award-nominee Tammy Blanchard, along with her new boyfriend David, played by Michiel Huisman (The Age of Adaline and Game of Thrones).

It's hinted, and slowly but surely revealed, that the reason Will and Eden divorced is due to the accidental passing of their son named Ty who died on his fifth birthday. Will blamed himself and Eden become suicidal. After spending two years in Mexico, Eden decides to host this dinner party at her former house. Eden claims not to be suicidal any more and has a new outlook where she claims to be over all her pain and negative emotions, and thus begins the struggle of whether or not Eden's way of coping is the way to go.

The last twenty minutes is when all Hell breaks loose, and the characters, specifically David and Eden, start to behave in a way that doesn't follow from what is established. There's no explanation. Taking from the dialogue, one assumes that it's a kind of warped euthanasia, but that just seems like a smoke screen. One then assumes a kind of Charles Manson or else Mexican-American type of jihad, but there is not enough here to connect those dots. How were David and Eden convinced to do what they do?

The ensuing action is also clunkily staged and stumbles to arrive at a certain outcome. That outcome is appreciated, but clearly contrived. It's shocking, but Kusama doesn't utilize the space of the house and because the point-of-view is limited to Will's perspective, there is a lot that's left out for the audience to wonder. It's possibly the stuff of good horror but too frustrating for me.

Marshall-Green probably gives the best performance he's ever given, as a man stricken with grief and how that fuels his anxiety. He's great as he bounces off the personalities of everyone else. He might even be better than Joan Fontaine in Suspicion, but unlike her, I wouldn't be willing to give him an Oscar for this. This movie's resolution is also certainly worse than that Hitchcock classic.

Two Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but contains language and bloody violence.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 40 mins.

Playing in select theaters, including the IFC Center, the Arclight and the Alamo Drafthouse.
Available on VOD including Amazon, Google Play, Vudu, iTunes and Cable TV on demand.

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