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Karyn Kusama's The Invitation (2015) Provides Menacing Hearty Meal

Image by Hans Braxmeier from Pixabay
Karyn Kusama's The Invitation depicts an awkward dinner party turned menacing. With a foreboding, unsettling tone that intensifies throughout, viewers will find themselves learning forward with anticipation for the final reveal. 

Will (Logan Marshall-Green; Upgrade) accepts an invitation to what is sure to be an uncomfortable dinner party, accompanied by his new girlfriend Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi; Middle of Nowhere). Hosted by his ex-wife, Eden and her new husband, David, the other guests are the former couple's mutual friends -- with a few notable interlopers -- who haven't seen one another in two years. The sense of something dreadful destined to happen begins on their drive towards the host home. And it doesn't help that Will hits a coyote by accident with his car on the way. The way he handles the encounter provides insight into his character, and we understand that Will is keenly aware of the suffering of others.

Upon arrival, the guests greet one another and reconnect over expensive wine. Everyone seems more than happy to participate in this reunion, all except Will, who has his guard up from the beginning. It's obvious that Will is not that friend who tries to make everyone feel comfortable. He hangs back and remains stoic, in spite of the almost desperate efforts the group makes to make him feel at ease.

In addition to the full group fireside chats that place in the vast expanse of the family home, bits of the story are also revealed in the one-on-one conversations that various guests instigate with Will. And then, there are a very few flashbacks of happier times from the former couple's life together. As we eavesdrop on these moments and spy on the intimate dinner party, the story of what happened to Will and Eden's marriage -- and the reason Eden and David have hosted this gathering -- unfolds. 

The Invitation worked on all levels. The majority of the movie takes place in the home of Eden and David – formerly shared with Will. The drive to the house takes place in daylight, but once the house is entered, the outside is bathed in darkness, amping the sinister feel. Although the home seems opulent, even with a modest guest list of 12, the fit is tight, and we can sense Will's feelings of claustrophobia. When he feels overwhelmed, he moves away from the group, providing opportunity for the one-on-one chats his friends have with him. 

A few scattered scenes are filmed more lyrically, providing much needed interludes between the tense dialogue-driven scenes. One such moment, the screen focuses on just the feet of the guests as they walk upstairs to share the anticipated meal. Indeed, we don't know where the feet are taking us, and for a moment, it seems clear that doom is impending. But, no, it's just time to eat. In another scene, the camera walks the length of the loaded dinner table, showing all of the dishes on display, as if we are watching a commercial for a delicious new restaurant, only because of the shadowed lighting and sinister music, we again dread what is to come.

Several of the supporting characters add to the general unease as well, walking that precarious line between seeming normal/happy and twisted/unstable. This gives viewers that unsettling feelings of not being sure if someone can be trusted or not. Eden, the ex-wife (Tammy Blanchard), David, the news husband (Michiel Huisman), and new friends they met in a grief program, Sadie (Lindsay Burdge) and Pruitt (John Carroll Lynch), all add to a displaced feeling.

Logan Marshall-Green does a fine job at his role of the stoic but broken Will. His affect gives us the clear sense that this is a man who hasn't felt joy in a long time. Perhaps he has not healed from the events of his past.

The story setup overall rings true, as well. From the conversations shown on screen, it's clear why the friends have all lost touch. After a loss, it's often hard to know how to comfort someone, and all of the friends give sincere yet sheepish excuses as to why they haven't been in touch. And when healing from grief, people will do almost anything to avoid the pain.

All good horror starts with trauma, and The Invitation takes one family's story of devastating loss to create an unforgettable psychological thriller. When the final reveal arrives, viewers will be glad for the well constructed feeling of anticipation. This film provides a great example of how to build tension without losing viewer interest.