The Invitation (2016)

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“Why would anyone wanna’ watch that?”

The Invitation is a stratified film that welcomes pain. The feeling demands to be felt, and in this overtly psychosomatic case, is ultimately dealt with by tapping into the reserve tanks of suspicion and self-doubt. The movie plays parts mystery, cultural commentary, deep-seeded drama. And honestly, I’m pretty sure I was aware of every step that would be taken, like going down a hillside path in the pitch black of night; you know the destination but still have to make your way with caution. Does it reinvent the fascination with cult ideologies? No, not even close. But what it does do, in an eye-opening fashion, is illuminate the fractured psyches of individuals either driven away from or embraced by a sense of faith. The Invitation is cinematic calligraphy; purposeful, stylized, and executed with a rare trace of error.

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After time apart, Will (Logan Marshall-Green) is welcomed back home by his old spouse Eden (Tammy Blanchard) for a dinner party. Will has his new girlfriend Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi) while Eden stays in the house with her partner David (Michiel Huisman). A life altering accident ripped Will and Eden apart, only now bringing them together alongside their closest friends after two long years. Things have changed though. Doors locked, windows barbed, unknown guests. It’s a self-reconciling occasion, as well as one that seems incredibly forced, edging us along as the actors cringe and crawl their way through the actions of awkward individuals confronting the past. The Invitation is a film that’s very obviously directed, from the performances to the shots of anxiety, and one that forces you to make assumptions before it candidly challenges them with a provocative affront.

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There’s a strange subsidiary of movies lately located in the California hills and centered around controversial religious/spiritual beliefs. This one unfolds as the thematic combination of recent fair The East and Sound of My Voice, lived by the dinner group of 1983’s The Big Chill, all wrapped up in the peculiarities bursting throughout the 1939 Criterion classic The Rules of the Game. It’s new and old, vintage and up to date. By most measures the story transcends its own inexplicable time and place to set insoluble footprints. That high commendation is a reflection of the cast’s work as well as director Karyn Kusama. She’s only made a few films, and even though her biggest ventures have been box-office duds, she has shown an incredible depth of range. Indies, comics, TV, original horror. She’s done everything outside of an outright comedy, and with The Invitation, Kusama has staked a claim in the current search for directorial talent. Her growth as a filmmaker shows obvious know how when it comes to handling a film.

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The Invitation expands the expressive manner of a unified group mentality while transposing the originality of the often shapeless and detrimentally forward film titled Faults from last year. By the time we get to the abrupt ending the side characters have become driftwood, all minimized by the presence of legendary actor John Carroll Lynch as the scheming and duplicitous Pruitt. Few can pull off the hollow look of hell as convincingly as he. Mostly though, the movie just lacks a subtle note. The beginning is too foreboding, the middle too conspicuous, the ending too forthright. But The Invitation inches us closer to the screen through a steady sense of intrigue and opposition. Harsh realities and fate can sometimes be one in the same, and although the movie walks us to the bloodied finish line, it still breaks the plane of the ordinary and the average.

“We shouldn’t put off enjoying what we love.”

Rating: 4 out of 5

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