Dinner party films work so well due to a claustrophobic quality, felt by both the audience and characters, stuck in one setting with the same group of people. Films such as ‘The Host‘, ‘Coherence‘ and even ‘Would You Rather‘ utilise such a setting to emphasise that there is no escape and that they only have each other. So, Karyn Kusama’s The Invitation is an addition to a list of films about dark dinner parties with a twist. It follows a grieving Will (played by Logan Marshall-Green) and his new girlfriend Kira (played by Emayatzy Corinealdi) at a friend reunion dinner hosted by his ex wife. Flashbacks indicate that the former couple had a son who died tragically and this explains why I almost urged Marshall-Green to actually be Tom Hardy because he did the best impression of him that I’ve ever seen – brooding with inner torture and guilt (not unlike Tom Hardy in the film ‘Locke‘) This is not to take anything away from his performance but luckily unlike Tom Hardy in Locke, he did not nor did he have to carry the movie all by himself. The fantastic Corinealdi, meanwhile, becomes an ideal heroine despite being overlooked in the first half of the film. This is probably due to emphasise her being a stranger, a new person to these old friends who have known each other for a long time. Her vengeful survivor mode holds her up to be better than a new face in the gang, she becomes her own person beyond the friendship group.
The film is the right amount of creepy and unpredictable with no corny jump scares that would have taken away any real intrigue. The action slowly builds up, naturally, no one believes Will, whose suspicions are seen as that of the bitter ex, determined to find something wrong with his ex’s new life. There’s a touching moment -shockingly amongst the disturbing vibes – when he confronts his ex Eden about her new way of coping. The tone becomes quite sad. Still, nobody believes him and think he’s crazy. Then, there’s this amazing, hilarious scene when all of a sudden, he’s had enough and he bursts at the dinner table, ending the calmness and light conversations between friends. It’s funny in a good way -because of the film’s creepy undertone, this moment takes us by surprise and livens it up. It was important also that Will acted on behalf of the audience. I too was perplexed at the rest of the group’s nonchalant reaction to their friend joining a cult and her partner locking all the doors. This outburst came perfectly and led way to a magnificent latter half that moves quickly with abrupt twists and turns that make you vocalise ‘WTF’. This is a great achievement for director Karyn Kasuma, who had already managed to lock down the film’s vibe from the first scene and consistently carried this eeriness all the way up until the last scene.
I don’t think this is a film about grief necessarily although one might question if Will, who was plagued with memories of his son, overcame his grief by the end of the film (And if the things he did to get to the end of the film contributed to him overcoming his grief at all) If anything, it better explores close friendships and the cliché ‘how well do you really know a person?’ question, and that interestingly, even if we are not part of a cult, we might have the same instincts anyway. It makes you think about Will’s depressing pensiveness and exactly what his capabilities were rather than what his cult-joining ex wife was up to. Scenes in the last half were definitely my favourite and if you can’t make your own mind up about it, it might prompt you to Google things to see what other people think.