Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #599
Number of Views: One
Release Date: March 13, 2015 (SXSW), April 8, 2016
Country of Origin: United States
Running Time: 99 minutes
Director: Karyn Kusama
Producers: Phil Hay, Matt Manfredi, Martha Griffin, Nick Spicer
Screenplay: Phil Hay, Matt Manfredi
Special Effects: Carrie Mercado, Cale Thomas
Cinematography: Bobby Shore
Score: Theodore Shapiro
Editing: Plummy Tucker
Studios: Gamechanger Films, Lege Artis, XYZ Films
Distributor: Drafthouse Films
Stars: Logan Marshall-Green, Tammy Blanchard, Michiel Huisman, Emayatzy Corinealdi, Lindsay Burdge, Mike Doyle, Jay Larson, John Carroll Lynch, Jordi Vilasuso, Toby Huss, Michelle Krusiec, Marieh Delfino, Karl Yune
Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫
 Craig Wedren & Benjamin Newgard “O My Child”
 Craig Wedren & Benjamin Newgard “Baby You’re Gone”
We all have our own way of dealing with grief. Some wear their sorrow openly, while others (myself inclusive) have a tendency to bottle that shit up and flat-out refuse to deal. This has never been more evident than a few years ago when I lost someone incredibly dear to me and the coping mechanism I adopted was to suffer in silence while all around me lost their heads. I remember questioning whether there was something wrong with me and was desperate to relinquish the burden, but an inability to process this uninvited data prevented me from doing so. As a result, it was years before the inevitable breakdown occurred and, when it did, it hit me with the full force of a 18-pound splitting maul. Now imagine having your only child snatched away by one such callous twist of fate and it isn’t even worth contemplating the damage that particular blow would deal.
This is precisely the kind of unthinkable scenario that thirtysomething Will (Logan Marshall-Green) is struggling to come to terms with. Still numb after the unexpected death of his preteen boy two years ago, he has since parted ways with his significant other Eden (Tammy Blanchard) and attempted to piece together the fragments of his shattered life by moving on with new girlfriend Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi). However, while life goes on as reminded by those who cannot hope to fully fathom his loss, it’s clear from the offset that this is easier said than done and his scraggly beard can’t mask the emotional paralysis he is feeling beneath. Regardless, Will is determined not to throw in the towel and agrees (with some reluctance I might add) to an invitation from his estranged life mate to her plush home high in the Hollywood Hills for a dinner party with old friends.
Eden has recently remarried and her new husband David (Michiel Huisman) is a recovering addict with whom she appears to have found a modicum of happiness. On their arrival, after a disquieting episode during transit, Will and Kira are greeted warmly by their hosts and reintroduced to old pals, a group of charmed L.A. socialites with the common goal of enjoying this overdue reunion with free-flowing red wine as their lubricant of choice. They’re an eclectic bunch for sure, with fresh additions to their social circle, free-spirited Sadie (Lindsay Burdge) and similarly odd Pruitt (John Carroll Lynch), seeming a little out-of-place. There’s an initial awkwardness between them all as nobody is prepared to speak of the elephant in the room for fear of compromising the party vibe.
Something doesn’t feel right to Will. Perhaps it is the fact that this swanky mid-century modern home is one he used to share with Eden before tragedy struck and packed with memories, both happy and otherwise. Or could it have something to do with the fact that she appears to be at peace and he isn’t buying into her newfound serenity or sickly sweet smiles, given that his angst still feels every bit as raw. Dressed to impress in a form-fitting white evening gown, she ghosts about like the social butterfly and perfect hostess that she is, topping up her guests’ glasses and engaging in the obligatory niceties, while there’s something about her new spouse that has Will feeling increasingly uneasy and he can’t quite put his finger on what that might be.
With thinly veiled tensions soon rising, The Invitation cranks up the mystery and the numerous quieter moments feel just as pivotal to piecing together the larger puzzle as Marshall-Green uses every suspicious glance to keep us buying into his theory that all is not well here. His performance is beautifully understated and his yearning just as masterfully realized, while all other pawns play their part as the walls of this brokedown palace begin closing in around us. Meanwhile, the split-level house itself is just as critical at highlighting his accelerating sense of uneasiness. Like the hosts it is initially inviting but, with security bars installed on all its windows, begins to feel stifling and prison-like as the story wears on. Revealing any more would be doing this wonderful film a huge injustice as it simply has to be experienced first-hand with the same sense of mounting befuddlement as its enigmatic lead.
Brooklyn-born director Karyn Kusama placed herself on our radars with her excellent debut Girlfight in 2000, before coming unstuck with big-budget sci-fi flop Æon Flux five years later and seemingly falling from grace overnight. Despite redeeming herself partly with Jennifer’s Body, this is her first film in over half a decade and shows just how gifted a filmmaker she truly is. Kusama isn’t alone either as cinematographer Bobby Cross does a stand-up job of framing Will in isolation from the other guests, while Theodore Shapiro’s score is as affecting as it is unobtrusive, and the screenplay from Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi is both smart and cunning, gradually filling in the gaps of the characters’ backstories and revealing just enough to keep us guessing right through to the third act reveal. When that comes, it’s unforgettable, and handled supremely well. It would have been all too easy to come a cropper at this point and escalate into outright lunacy but mercifully this never happens.
The Invitation is an excellent film from first frame to pitch-perfect last and far more than the simple The Big Chill meets Ten Little Indians head-scratcher I was anticipating. Granted its burn is an agonizing slow one, but it never once slackens its grip on our senses and casts a potent spell throughout. Most critically it tackles the thorny topic of personal loss and the thankless quest for acceptance in the midst of such heartbreaking tragedy, effortlessly transcending its theatrical single location styling to provide a stellar piece of cinematic art that will linger on long after the credits roll. It’s one party invite I’m positively thrilled that I didn’t pass up.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 9/10
Grue Factor: 2/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: This one really couldn’t be less about the grue although the violence, when it comes, is every bit as brutal as it is swift. It’s the pressure cooker tension that makes for such an unforgettable experience and that doesn’t let up once throughout. Meanwhile, who’s going to be the one to tell Burdge that she’s forgotten to dress fully for the occasion? I thought not, let’s call it our little secret shall we?
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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