When director Karyn Kusama burst onto the scene in 2000 with the indie film Girlfight (which made a star of Michelle Rodriguez) film fans were thrilled as a young female director was making waves and showing potential. Then she went on to direct a couple of bigger budget films in Aeon Flux and Jennifer’s Body and her stock went down as the films were not great. Not as great as her potential, that is to say. Now, after directing some television episodes and a short film she is back to her indie roots and it is once again a match made in heaven.
The Invitation would be regrettably my last film at this year’s Fantasia film festival and it ended everything on a high note. A very tense note, but a high note. The less talked about in regards to the plot the better, but will try to give you a little taste without ruining things.
Will (Logan Marshall-Green – Prometheus, Madame Bovary – 2014) and Kira (Emayatzi Corinealdi – Middle of Nowhere) are driving to a dinner party they have been invited to by Eden (Tammy Blanchard – Into the Woods, Blue Jasmine), Will’s ex-wife, and her new husband, David (Michiel Huisman – The Age of Adaline, Wild). It has been two years since Will saw Eden and she pretty much disappeared after their marriage ended following a tragedy. As it is going to be awkward, Will is a little tense in the car and it gets worse when they hit a coyote. Knowing that it is the humane thing to do, Will gets out of the car and with the tire iron puts the animal out of its misery. This is definitely a foreshadowing of how their evening is going to go.
At dinner Will and Eden’s group of friends, Tommy (Mike Doyle – Green Lantern, P.S., I Love You), Miguel (Jordi Vilasuso – from television’s All My Children), Ben (Jay Larson), Gina (Michelle Krusiec – What Happens in Vegas, Sweet Home Alabama), and Claire (Marieh Delfino – Jeepers Creepers 2, Don’t Come Knocking), are all there. Instead of this being a nice reunion the tension is so thick you could cut it with a knife. Mostly because of Will. The tension becomes thicker when two new friends of Eden and David’s, Pruitt (John Carroll Lynch – Gran Torino, Shutter Island) and Sadie (Lindsay Burdge – Frances Ha), join the group. You just get the feeling that this night is not going to end well.
For me, the scariest movies are those that do not rely on gore rather create tension that keeps you on edge. Well, throughout this film (from the time they struck the coyote) I was on edge. My body was never in a relaxed state. It is not through action that Karyn Kusama achieves this rather it is a slow-burner with things starting off slowly before they suddenly explode over the last fifteen minutes or so. Not telling us everything that is happening really works to great effect. Our focus is continuously shifted from what we think we know and what we actually know. Guiding the entire thing with a sure hand, Kusama signals her return in a confident way. She does not try to fill up the film with dialogue. Demonstrating her confidence there are long silent shots of Will’s face filled with grief, suspicion and rage. It is moments like these that really add to the tension. Then she lets the viewer off the tenterhook a little by having the tension broken up by some friendly interaction or humour. But before you get too relaxed – Boom! – you are right back on the edge of your seat.
Pain is the throttle that drives this whole film. It is an emotion that everyone out there can relate to. Being sad or sorrowful is almost a necessity in our lives indicating that something is missing. How we deal with the emotion is very important. It is dangerous to not address or deal with the pain we are feeling. Repressing it can lead to dangerous situations. So sorrow and the way you deal with it can either make you more in touch with your humanity or drive you to decisions which are unhealthy for yourself and those around you. Decisions you would not normally make.
The film almost unfolds like a play in that it happens mostly in a couple of rooms of the same house with very little change of location. It is totally character driven and the depth, especially by lead Marshall-Green, each actor instills in the characters goes far.