Karyn Kusama Explores the Power of Grief in ‘The Invitation’

     Anyone who has seen Jennifer’s Body understands why it is quickly heading toward becoming a cult classic.  Director Karyn Kusama effectively and realistically interweaves the impact of relationships into a horror plot.  Rather than hide them, or checking off backstory reveals like a shopping list, she is able to convey the emotions that we can’t see to build history between characters without saying a word.  The Invitation is far more suspenseful than the high-school horror comedy was, but that doesn’t make it any less effective in examining relationships in a real, relatable way.

     The Invitation follows a divorced man who has lost a child.  His ex-wife and her strange new spouse invite several old friends for a dinner party, including her ex and his new partner.  What follows is the most awkward get-together in the history of get-togethers.  The entire movie takes place in the house, so while it is not a true bottle setting, there is still an expert, claustrophobic feel of unease that makes it feel as if they are going to be trapped there.  The fact that they are free to roam around the house gives opportunity for some quiet moments of reflection, or for people to escape the group and ask about people’s history, feelings, and relationships.  All of these snippets of background conversation give a well-rounded view of our hero’s grief, played expertly by Logan Marshall-Green.

     As the night wears on, it becomes increasingly obvious that something is wrong.  What is interesting, however, is how long people are able to ignore it.  Everything is chalked up to social awkwardness, and the inability of the exes to relate to one another.  It is obvious to the audience because we know exactly how much the grief of losing a child has impacted our hero.  For a time, it is easy to dismiss his paranoia as a reaction to having to face his past, but it reaches a tipping point where we know that he is not that paranoid, and we start to worry.

     The tension in this film is amazing, building the suspense to an almost painful point.  It makes you feel as if you need to look away, but you don’t dare for fear of missing even a single moment.  And just when you think that it’s over, the ending gives an effective one-two punch as the final scene allows you to see the full extent of the horror of what seemed to be a simple invitation to dinner.

     Trust me when I say that this film is going to make you question any dinner party invitation that you accept for the next fifty years.  For an understated, suspenseful movie with a wicked build-up into traditional horror, you can’t do better that The Invitation.

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