Monday, April 11, 2016

THE INVITATION Is Yet Another Indie Horror Gem


- And so the indie horror revival yields yet another gem. THE INVITATION is one of those great little horror films that delivers slow-burning intensity and a pervasive atmosphere of "WTF-is-happening-right-now?" creepiness. Director Karyn Kusama keeps the pressure-cooker vibe strong, making a strong case for herself as a director who really gets how to do horror right. Now, this will be a difficult movie to review - THE INVITATION falls squarely in the less-you-know-about-the-plot-the-better category. But I will try to speak a bit about why the film works as well as it does.

The basics of the plot (don't worry, not spoiling anything) involve a man, Will (Logan Marshall-Green) reluctantly accepting an invitation to a dinner party being thrown by his ex-wife, Eden, in the secluded Hollywood Hills home where the couple used to live. The guests include an assortment of old friends - who were once clearly very close - but for eventually-made-clear reasons, grew apart. And so the dinner party is a reunion of sorts - with new significant others (including Will's new girlfriend and Eden's new husband), and assorted other new faces, added to the mix. But the exact reasons as to why Eden felt compelled to throw this party remain mysterious, and a feeling of dread seems to hang over Will throughout the night. Is this really just a long-overdue gathering of old friends - a way for Eden to make peace with her past? Or is there some other agenda here?

The film does a great job of slowly dispensing information as it goes - all while raising new questions throughout its running time. What's so impressive is how Kusama takes her time to get to the movie's explosive endgame - and yet, everything leading up to the big climax is completely, 100% gripping in its own right. Even as we struggle to figure out what's going on, even as we try to wrap our heads around the subtle clues and character dynamics revealed over the course of the dinner party, the film holds us firmly in the palm of its hand. Indeed, THE INVITATION feels like a nice companion piece to recent indie thrillers like You're Next and Coherence, in that it really nails a lot of small moments and character stuff, but also delivers pretty nicely - and really escalates in a pretty crazy way - once all of its cards are laid on the table.

I do think the movie has a couple of faults that keep it from being a new classic. One issue is that the acting is a bit of a mixed bag. There a couple of reliably great performers - like the always great (and often creepy-as-hell) John Carroll Lynch - who really help elevate things. But a couple of the actors - and by extension their characters - feel a bit bland. One other complaint is that, as fun as the movie's final act is, it does feel a bit rushed. It would have been fun to have the film's endgame given a little more breathing room - especially so as to allow the plot to come together in more of a cohesive fashion. As is, there's still a lot that feels not-quite-explained-to-satisfaction by the time the movie ends.

That said - and again, without spoiling anything - the movie has an absolutely jaw-dropping coda, that will be talked about by horror fans for a long time to come.

THE INVITATION is well worth a watch if you've been digging (as I have) the recent indie horror explosion. If nothing else, the film is a great testament to Kusama's skills as a director - after this (and the underrated Jennifer's Body) it'd be a crying shame if she doesn't get put on Hollywood short-lists to helm more thrillers and horror flicks. But more so than that, this is one of the most genuinely creepy and unsettling horror movies in quite some time. Check it out.

My Grade: B+

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