Film Reviews

31 Days of Halloween: The Invitation

What is a horror movie? Are there a set of cinematic conventions that define what we would consider horror? Is there some kind of checkbox we can consult to tell the difference between horror and thriller? Or is it more elemental than that? Is horror, to reference Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, like pornography in that you know it when you see it?

I’m asking this because if you consult the various gatekeepers the movie I picked for today’s 31 Days of Halloween entry, 2015’s The Invitation, might not actually qualify as horror. iTunes categorizes it as thriller. Amazon actually puts it under a different umbrella: “drama and suspense.” Neither Netflix nor Vudu can make up their mind, calling it thriller, suspense, AND horror.

However, if we consider the ability or at least intention to scare as a vital component of horror then The Invitation certainly qualifies for me. As your standard socially awkward guy, there’s nothing scarier to me than small talk, sharing an isolated space with strangers, and settling into a pattern where unsettled tensions forever hang over every interaction with a loved one. The Invitation has all of that AND John Caroll Lynch.

Horror? Thriller? Suspense? Ultimately, who cares what you call it just as long as you call it good because this film truly is a gem.


What’s It About?

As bad omens go, hitting a coyote with your car while en route to a dinner party with your new girlfriend wouldn’t necessarily register. For Will (Logan Marshall-Green) and Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi), it’s an unpleasant moment, sure, but not an entirely unexpected one. Coyotes, after all, are incredibly common in the Hollywood Hills, and Will actually used to love up there. The party they’re attending is taking place at what used to be his house.

His ex-wife Eden (Tammy Blanchard) and her new husband David (Michiel Huisman) live there now. It’s been years since Will saw them or the other old friends they’ve. The night is going to be awkward no matter what. Having to mercy kill a coyote is exactly the kind of shit you’d expect the universe to throw at you on such a terrible evening.

However, as a viewer, this ominous opening foreshadows an evening which just might take some weird ass turns. What metaphorical coyotes are going to jump out in front of Will as he tries to navigate the rocky waters of not talking about the thing everyone is clearly thinking, that they’ve all drifted apart ever since the death of his son. Heck, he met Kira through a grief therapy support group, and he’s still not ok with any of it.

So, why the hell does Eden seem happier than ever? Why does David insist on locking all the doors? And what is the story with the two moon-eyed strangers – Sadie (Lindsay Burdge) and Pruitt (Lynch) – he’s invited to the dinner?

Did I Like It?

When I referenced a fear of socially awkward situations earlier, I didn’t mean to make light of The Invitation‘s true themes. This is a film ultimately about grief, so much so that as Will’s suspicions mount we don’t know if we can totally trust him. Is he noticing that things truly don’t seem right? Or is fixating on innocent little details as a means of coping and avoiding engaging with all of the old friends trying to open up to him? Will is our protagonist, yet he spends an awful lot of time struggling to connect and often simply excusing himself to another room or outside to be alone.

That’s likely where the genre elasticity comes from. After all, if Will is wrong and nothing dangerous or strange happens beyond an uncomfortable pitch from some scientologists or something then what kind of movie would you call that? If Will is right, however, and some kind of cultish violence is about to descend on them does that make it a horror movie? Or a suspenseful drama with a violent ending?

I won’t spoil where the film goes with that, only that Karyn Kusama – who hadn’t made a movie in 6 years prior to The Invitation and took another three to make her follow-up, Destroyer – proves herself a master of tension.

There is a very LA quality to the script and film, touching on what it’s like to live in la la land with so many eccentrics that when you meet someone at a dinner party who instantly comes off like a Manson family member you simply joke, “A little Manson-y, sure, but, hey, it’s L.A.” The grief and tension, however, is quite universal, and even if there is to be no violent encounter you sense Will can’t keep a lid on his simmering emotions forever. Sitting and waiting for the the film’s inevitable outburst, whatever form it might take, is entirely the fun of it all.

Where to Stream

According to JustWatch: Currently, you are able to watch “The Invitation” streaming on Netflix. It is also possible to buy “The Invitation” on Vudu, PlayStation, Apple iTunes, Google Play Movies, YouTube, FandangoNOW, Microsoft Store, Amazon Video as download or rent it on Vudu, PlayStation, Apple iTunes, Google Play Movies, YouTube, FandangoNOW, Microsoft Store, Amazon Video online.

31 Days of Halloween So Far:

Next Up: Flesh-eating little bastards.

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