Beyond Fest Review: ‘The Invitation’ Thrillingly Portrays the Dinner Party From Hell

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At one point or another, we’ve all experienced an awkward get together with friends over dinner. Old feuds and romances simmer under the surface as wine is poured and dinner is served as an escalating sense of unease is also passed around the table. That kind of awkward dinner party is the setting for The Invitation, the new horror-thriller from director Karyn Kusama. It’s a solid thriller taking aim the kooky beliefs of the upper classes that slowly builds and builds before reaching its frenzied climax.

With his girlfriend Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi), Will (Logan Marshall-Green) is attending a dinner party hosted by his ex-wife Eden (Tammy Blanchard) and her new husband David (Michael Huisman). The dinner party is a reunion of sorts as Eden and David have been away for the past two years. Within their posh home in the Hollywood Hills, Will is seeing some of his old friends that he also hasn’t seen in a long time – Ben (Jay Larson), a loud-mouthed jokester, and his wife Claire (Mariah Delfino); the gay couple of Miguel (Jordi Vilasuso) and Tommy (Mike Doyle); and Gina (Michelle Krusiec) and her perpetually late boyfriend Choi (Karl Yune). Also joining this get together are the mysterious new friends of Eden and David, Sadie (Lindsay Burdge), a hippie-like free spirit they met during their two years in Mexico, and Pruitt (John Carol Lynch), a tower and imposing figure. But this isn’t just a normal dinner party of friends old and new. Eden and David have found themselves part of a new belief called The Invitation, a cult headed by Dr. Joseph (Toby Huss), which proclaims to eliminate pain and suffering. While most people shrug off the new beliefs of their hosts, Will, who still has past traumas from his relationship with Eden, feels something is off, maybe even frighteningly unsettling.

Naturally with a movie like The Invitation there are a number of twists and turns, and I wouldn’t dare spoil them for you. But the events in the film slowly escalate and just when you think it’s stalling, The Invitation kicks it into high-gear. The script by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi plays with the audience and their expectation, and director Karyn Kusama amplifies the misdirection to the point that you get a sense of where it’s going but can never actually be sure what’s behind The Invitation. The cinematography by Bobby Shore ensures that the unsettling subject matter looks beautiful and mysterious.

The film is anchored by a strong lead performance from Logan Marshall-Green, who conveys all the inner pain and distrust that Will has towards his hosts. Tammy Blanchard is equally unsettling as Will’s ex-wife and co-host of the dinner party, compulsively stroking her necklace whenever challenged. As the puzzling newcomers in this circle of friends, both John Carol Lynch and Lindsay Burdge give marvelous performances as cult members that seem to be hiding something. Lynch is especially eerie when giving a lengthy monologue about his past, entirely cool, calm, collected, and creepy.

The Invitation plays heavily on the way that many people in the upper classes find themselves susceptible to various beliefs that are detached from reality – whether we’re talking about anti-vaxxers or Scientology, the cult of The Invitation is merely an extension of these things. Karyn Kusama is never afraid to undercut the tension with moments of well-placed humor, sometimes just a slight reaction and other times an honest-to-goodness joke. Tense, well-shot, and funny, The Invitation is an all-out thrill ride of an increasingly unsettling nature. The Invitation portrays the dinner party from Hell, and Karyn Kursama has crafted another excellent work that isn’t simply for fans of horror. Make sure you RSVP to The Invitation. You won’t regret it.

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