Director Karyn Kusama Producers Martha Griffin, Phil Hay, Nick Spicer Screenwriters Phil Hay, Matt Manfredi Starring Michiel Huisman, Logan Marshall-Green, John Carroll Lynch Country Of Origin USA Running Time 97 mins
For aspiring female directors, Karyn Kusama is like that inspirational happy song that picks you up when you’re at your lowest, most hungover point at your ‘for now’ place of work on a Monday. When all incentive to “dream big” has withered and all reserves of faith in yourself have drained, a spared thought for Kusama, the American director who debuted with GIRLFIGHT and moved onto JENNIFER’S BODY and now brings us THE INVITATION, reminds you why it’s all worthit again.
Her latest film will have you squirming in your seats as the tension takes hold in a scenario you thought you could map out with your eyes closed. Make sure to keep both open to capture every shifty glance, every overly casual comment, and every chess movement of these Cluedo-like characters at this odd reunion dinner.
Will and his girlfriend Keira make their way tentatively through the winding Hollywood Hills to Will’s ex-wife Eden and new partner David’s place for a reunion dinner with all their old friends – and a couple of new ones picked up in Eden’s two year hiatus from their social group. It becomes clear early on that the evening is marked by more than just ex-awkwardness: a family trauma that ripped Will and Eden apart still lingers in the house that they once shared. And Eden and her new friends immediately set off the “crazy” alarm bells in the now older and wiser (signified by the Castaway beard) Will. Tension, trauma and suppressed memories bubble just under the polite and friendly surface, increasingly threatening to boil over as the night goes on…
Kusama has managed to take a story that feels worn out – the ‘something ain’t right’ dinner party – and inject it with moving moments of sadness and fresh insight. The earnest performances draw us into the story with sympathy – Eden, although clearly a bit unhinged, is a vulnerable soul and Will’s strong demeanour wobbles as his mind torments him with memories – and just the right amount of incredulity at their inability to catch on before it’s too late.
THE INVITATION is also a subtly satirising look at the gated Hollywood Hills community: luxurious and abundant and enviable and yet more than just a little bit strange. In such an appealing setting, and with the impression of having been selected as lucky guests like the winners of Willy Wonker’s golden tickets, their ability to call out their hosts’ odd behaviour is diminished. A dire warning against the consequences of being seduced by LA materialism from Kusama (as well as an opportunity to poke fun at the cult-like lifestyles of gated communities).
The Final Word: Do not miss Kusama’s guilty pleasure thriller that is surprisingly moving.
THE INVITATION is showing at the BFI London Film Festival on the 9th and 10th of October.