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Spooktober Review: “The Invitation”

Plot twist is predictable but satisfying

Throughout “Spooktober,” Nicklaus Neitling reviews one horror property each weekday.

Is this movie about a spooky dinner party? Yeah, and it’s fucking amazing.

Massive spoilers ahead. Go watch this movie!

The Invitation follows couple Will (Logan Marshall Green) and Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi) as they go to Eden (Tammy Blanchard) and David’s (Michiel Huisman) house for a dinner party. Eden is Will’s ex-wife, which immediately sets up the film’s tension. Right before arriving, Will learns that all of his friends from his previous marriage will be there. Eden and David have invited them all over to learn about the healing powers of the New Age retreat they went on in Mexico. That’s pretty much the plot.

If you think you can guess the twist, you’re probably right. The thing is, director Karyn Kusama knows you know it, but tries your patience and expectations in getting there. It’s her direction that makes this film so goddamn brilliant.

First off, throughout the film, we see glimpses of what happened to Will and Eden’s son, Ty. The film never explicitly tells the audience what happened. Rather, all we know is that he died and the grief caused their divorce. We know Will is still visibly shaken, but that Eden has moved on. Director Kusama uses this mystery to seed doubt about Eden’s character and Will’s suspensions.

As the film trods towards the inevitable reveal of the sinister true nature of Eden and David’s New Age practices (did you guess the twist?), we’re given a number of red herrings. As obvious as the reveal is,  the film is smart enough to hold back the moment to build constant tension. Every “ah-ha” moment Will has is immediately diffused, blamed instead on Will’s apparent grief. This happens so frequently throughout the movie that I wondered, “Am I just watching an hour-and-40-minute dinner party through the eyes of a crazy person?”

But I wasn’t.

The reveal comes harshly and suddenly, but without fanfare. Will doesn’t get his “I told you so” moment because now the danger is real. The dinner guests try to escape the house with their lives, but those that do discover their house was one in a sea of hundreds. As their escape is futile, nothing about Will’s victory is satisfying.

I appreciate horror movies like this and hope other directors learn from Kasuma here. Everyone knows what the twist is, but that doesn’t matter. Kasuma wants you to wait and have doubt. She wants you to let your imagination fill in what the camera doesn’t. She opens up more questions than she answers. With the twist being obvious, Kasuma keeps our attention with irresoluble questions. The audience is even denied the satisfaction of the reveal because when it is finally revealed to the audience and the characters, it’s too late for some of them to survive. The climactic showdown is negated when the characters finally go outside and learn that everything they did was for naught.

The Invitation’s final moments show us that we’re just one houseful of people, surrounded by red lanterns and utterly powerless.

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