Wednesday, January 4, 2017

What's on Netflix: THE INVITATION

2016 was a great year for horror. Don't Breathe, Lights Out, and Green Room reinvigorated a genre that many agree was fading into a mess of jump scares and worthless cash-grab sequels. Amidst the more high-profile critical smash hits, many low-budget horror films also excelled at their craft, solidifying their worthy positions as some of the best movies of 2016. The haunting cinematic experience of The Invitation delivers a slowly-building tension that features some of the most tense and genuinely terrifying moments of the year.

The story of The Invitation is very simple on the surface. A group of old friends are reunited at a dinner party. Will, played by Logan Marshall-Green, is paranoid and broken by mysterious past events that seem to be centered around the house at which the party is being hosted. As mysterious and sinister events unfold, Will begins to doubt the good intentions of the party's hosts and the joyous occasion slowly spirals down into chaos.

Filmed on a $1 million budget (one-tenth of the budget of Don't Breathe), The Invitation is the directorial return of Karyn Kusama. Kusama's directorial debut, Girlfight, was widely praised by critics, signalling for some a great career to come. Unfortunately, Kusama went on to direct only two movies between 2001 and 2010: Aeon Flux and Jennifer's Body – two critically panned box-office failures. The Invitation is a return to roots for Karyn Kusama, who, after proving unsuccessful in big-budget efforts, is demonstrating again that she is a force to be reckoned with on the stage of independent cinema.

The performances in The Invitation are strikingly good, especially considering that viewers will most likely not recognize even a full handful of the sixteen total actors. This movie exemplifies the art of a slowly-paced, performance-driven horror film as tension is built solely through dialogue. No single actor turned in a career-defining effort, but every single character blended together with vibrant chemistry that propelled the movie forward through every scene. The first half of The Invitation is very much so a drama, while the second half is firmly a horror-thriller and the actors switch between genres with ease.

The one major weakness of The Invitation is not even a true weakness. I will try to explain my issue with this movie without delving too deeply into spoiler territory, but read this paragraph with caution if you want to go in completely blind. I must mention here that the first seventy minutes of the movie plod along at a very slow pace. I applaud the movie for taking a risk and spending such a significant amount of time preparing you for the inevitable terror to come, but I admit that, as a viewer, I found myself checking my phone a few times as yet another dinner table conversation dragged on for another five minutes. Another weakness that is not really a weakness of the film comes down to the fact that The Invitation does not subvert or sidestep any tropes and ends almost exactly as one would expect. However, if a film works within the boundaries of the genre in a skillful and intriguing way, then I don't believe that critics can fault it substantially for doing what it set out to do well.

The Invitation is not a movie that will be remembered ten years from now in the same way that I believe Don't Breathe and Green Room will. However, that is largely based on the fact that The Invitation just did not receive the same degree of publicity. It is truly one of the best horror films of the last year and I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in supporting criminally underseen horror cinema. This is also the type of horror thriller that holds appeal value to those not typically fans of the genre, for it capitalizes on its ensemble of characters in a way that transcends horror and delves firmly into genuine dramatic tension. Kusama's newest directorial effort was a wonderful way of spending two hours this past week and I eagerly anticipate her next project.

Jonathan's Score: 8.5/10

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