Saturday, October 01, 2016

30 Days of Nightmares #1: THE INVITATION (2015)

The Story: Two years after the tragic death of their son, Will and Eden are reunited at a dinner party in the Hollywood Hills, where Eden and her new husband are sharing secrets of a cult they joined in Mexico.

Expectations: I don’t understand how Netflix’s predictions algorithms work, but they assured me that I would think this was a five-star movie.  I saw it was directed by Karyn Kusama, who made JENNIFER’S BODY (which I liked), so I figured what the hell, give it a shot.

Reaction: You can usually tell in the first few minutes if you’re going to like a movie or not.  Right away, the filmmaker did a pretty good job of setting an ominous—even oppressive—mood, so I was along for the ride.

Once the story began to unravel, I couldn’t help thinking of an earlier film called THE INVITATION, about an eccentric older man (played by Lance Henriksen) who invites a group of people to a lavish dinner party in order to kill them—and, paradoxically, save them.  I had the sense that I was watching a film by someone who saw that earlier film, realized what a complete and utter mess it was, and decided to make a more impactful riff on the same idea. 

The writing is fairly smart—the whole plot hinges on the casual acknowledgment that everyone in L.A. is “a little weird” but basically “harmless.”  The obvious question is: Are these people just L.A.-crazy or are they crazy-crazy?  (This is an important question I ask myself all the time….) The answer: You’re watching a horror movie, so they’re “Mansonian.”  (The sexy one is even named Sadie….) Thankfully the movie doesn't tip its hat too soon.  

On the whole, the story is predictable—but every twist and nuance is smartly orchestrated, and the filmmaker maintains that ominous / oppressive mood all the way to the end.  The final scene puts a pretty ingenious twist on everything that has come before.  Color me impressed.

Most Nightmare-Worthy Moment: Any film that deals seriously with the death of a child is tough.  The simple, intimate flashbacks in which Will remembers his son are more heart-rending than anything else in the film.


  1. Interesting critique. I personally hated this film. I felt it dragged and that the b-story of the dead son was not handled well, it made the entire son plot convoluted and confusing. I also really felt the actual dinner scene came way too late and should have been the mid point of the movie, they waited too long on that for me when it was so obviously going to happen. I thought the lanterns were a nice touch and subtle enough to work and I thought the acting was fairly impressive. I liked the older Invitation much more, things were clearer and the motivations felt more grounded having a contained story than something much larger as in this film.

    Film suggestion: Coherence

    1. You're right that the b-story was cryptic. In a way, I thought that gave it more punch... It was obvious to me that they'd lost a child but were trying to suppress their memories. I thought the filmmaker conveyed that angst by likewise trying to bury the backstory, which crept through only in short, painful bursts. I probably would have been more annoyed by the delayed dinner scene if it hadn't been for the "L.A.-crazy" vs. "crazy-crazy" debate. (As I said, that one resonates strongly with me.) I should probably go back and watch the 2003 INVITATION. I remember loving Lance's scenes, but in my memory that film was much more convoluted that the 2015 INVITATION. I'll add COHERENCE to the list.