Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Invitation

THE INVITATION (Karyn Kusama, 2015)

After a tragedy and the subsequent dissolution of their marriage, Will (Logan Marshall-Green) and his friends don’t see his ex-wife Eden (Tammy Blanchard) and her new husband David (Michiel Huisman) for two years until they all are invited to a lavish dinner. The situation is especially awkward for Will in THE INVITATION as the party in the Hollywood Hills is being hosted where he used to live, which is also the site of the accident he’s still grieving over. His girlfriend Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi) and social circle are especially concerned about Will’s frame of mind. Eden and David have a disquieting sense of calm about them that gradually unnerves everyone when they begin testifying about the group that have brought them inner peace.

For the last two years they were often in Mexico with The Invitation, a New Age-like self-help organization that some consider a cult. The presence of two other group members also adds stress to the dynamic of the gathering. When David leads their guest in a game learned from The Invitation, the party becomes more uncomfortable. Will is deeply bothered by the weird tone of the evening and suspicious of Eden and David’s tranquility, but friends reassure him that the reunion was never not going to be awkward.

THE INVITATION plunges Will and the others into a scenario that seems off from the get-go, yet by identifying with his traumatized character, it’s uncertain if feeling ill at ease is the product of personal anxiety or the hosts’ behavior. Director Karyn Kusama brings the film along at a slow boil and subverts distrust at enough points to call Will’s perspective into question. Is he actually disturbed, or is he right to be on alert? THE INVITATION feasts on the tension between trying to go along with the crowd while simultaneously feeling discontent. Even if the rest of Will’s friends aren’t entirely on board with the way the night is shaping up, they are convinced that restoring old relationships is worth the trouble.

For a significant portion of its running time, THE INVITATION provides the experience of being confronted with soft but insistent peer pressure. It’s like dealing with a salesman who is friendly, if a little too familiar, and won’t take no for an answer. The guests are being plied with expensive wine, which lowers their inhibitions, but when all want to heal old wounds, they will be inclined to adapt despite any objections they may want to make. Kusama understands that suggestibility comes gradually in a strained environment like this. Although Will’s friends are sympathetic to the resistance he puts up, they just want to make the circle whole again. The nerve-racking nature of the party emerges in weighing desires versus a flight response that is pinging like crazy.

Grade: B-

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