Someone needs to pry J.J. Abrams away from his beloved mystery box and show him Karyn Kusama’s slow-boiling new psychological thriller, The Invitation, stat. Because this is how a twist ending is done. I’ll admit that the film occasionally feels like it takes its sweet time getting there, but when it arrives, it’s worth the wait. But before we get there, a bit about the set-up…
Written by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi (neither of whose previous credits hints at this level of screw-tightening talent), The Invitation revolves around a dinner party at a sleek modern home that precariously sits high up in the Hollywood Hills. We’ve all seen these sorts of designer-cool soirees on screen before — and they usually lead to long Cabernet-fueled evenings of combustible soul-searching followed by a break-of-dawn catharsis. The beauty of The Invitation is that it lulls you into expecting another one of these parties and jackknifes into something else entirely.
Prometheus‘ Logan Marshall-Green (don’t hold that against him) stars as Will, a shaggy-haired hipster who seems both haunted and none-too-psyched to be attending said party with his girlfriend, Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi). And soon after arriving, we understand why. It turns out that the evening is being hosted by his ex, Eden (Tammy Blanchard) and her new husband David (Michiel Huisman). They’re celebrating their recent marriage and also their re-appearance after a long spell off-the-grid in Mexico. Eden, with a beatific smile on her face, greets Will like a lost lamb. But Will isn’t as quick to let bygones be bygones. There’s an unspoken tragedy in their shared past (which will come into focus as the film goes on) and they’re both dealing with it on their own time tables. His is slower than hers. As mutual friends arrive and expensive wine is decanted, the past is unpacked, secrets are spilled, and things start to get weird. Then, they get a lot weirder.
I really don’t want to reveal too much about what happens next in The Invitation, but I promise that if you stick with it and surrender to its deliberate pace, you won’t be disappointed. Not only by the film itself, but also by its director, Girflight filmmaker Karyn Kusama, for whom this taut little indie chiller marks a heartening return to form after a couple of big-budget swings and misses (Aeon Flux, Jennifer’s Body). Returning to a smaller canvas — no doubt with fewer corporate nervous nellies peering over her shoulder — Kusama seems reenergized to be finally working without a mandated formula again. The proof is right there in The Invitation’s final shot that’s both as chilling and as perfect as anything Twilight Zone impresario Rod Serling dreamed up in his sting-in-the-tail prime. A-