Karyn Kusama’s stunning thriller The Invitation is finally making its way home today from Drafthouse Films after enjoying both a lengthy festival run and a successful theatrical outing since it first premiered at the 2015 SXSW Film Festival. Daily Dead recently had the chance to speak with Kusama on the eve of the movie’s Blu-ray/DVD/Digital combo pack release to discuss her reaction to the positive support The Invitation has received over the last 16 months and what she’s taken away from the whole experience.
Kusama also discussed the parallels between the current political landscape and The Invitation, why it was important to give her actors space while filming the project, and her thoughts on directing a segment for the upcoming female-driven anthology, XX.
Great to speak with you again, Karyn, and congrats on the success of The Invitation. The film enjoyed a long life on the festival circuit and found a lot of success with the theatrical release, too. And now, we're looking at the home release this week, so I’m curious, just how crazy has this whole experience been for you?
Karyn Kusama: It's been great. I really, truly feel thankful that I had the opportunity to make a little movie again and make it on my own terms. I was able to return myself to more personal filmmaking for this, because that's ultimately what I want to be doing. So to feel like the world has rewarded me for that, it's just so great. I don't expect it to always work out like this, but it's awfully nice when it does.
And I really didn't anticipate anything for the movie because I'm learning that anticipating and accepting things and being over-hopeful can be a big, sneaky detriment to one's career and one's state of mind. So, to have it be so positive and just feel like people saw the same movie I thought I was making, it's just such a great validation.
Watching it now for the third time, what I thought was interesting, considering everything that's going on in the world right now, especially in terms of politics, I really saw a lot of parallels in this story and how as a society, many of us are driven by fear and we don't want to deal with these issues ourselves. So it’s almost easier just to believe in these politicians than it is to deal with our fears.
Karyn Kusama: That's a really interesting observation because I feel that that was the initial impulse to make the movie. The sense that so frequently the worst decisions we make are the ones built on our fear of something that's going to happen or that we think is happening, but we don't necessarily know if it really is happening. That sense of dread and anxiety around something you can't control was a big impulse in making the film; to explore what can happen to our psyche if we surrender to that dread. Ironically, the main character suffers from the dread as much as everybody else in the movie, but in his case, there was a vigilance surrounding his intensely raw emotional state that actually allows him to respond truthfully.
I also love the fact that you really embraced your actors gave them room to breathe. It all feels very natural. Did you plan on letting these characters organically intertwine with each other right off the bat, or did you see that chemistry from the onset and then embraced it?
Karyn Kusama: The chemistry among the characters was very clearly communicated on the page in terms of the overlapping, the back-and-forth, and the spontaneous eruptions that are the hallmarks of normal conversations. That was actually pretty much in the script.
The interesting challenge was to get the actors on set, get them to know each other and be familiar with one another, and then really faithfully execute the work. It's a testament to those actors that they did such a good job of just making all of that feel very real and very immediate. There were moments where we would shift things or move things around. Our rehearsal period was pretty much designed to really let the actors think into the dialogue. It's like one of those movies that seems like it might be improvised, but not actually a word is, pretty much.
Most directors will tell you that they take a little piece of each project that they do with them, and it changes you, or makes you better, or even makes you evolve as a storyteller. Is there something in particular from your experience with The Invitation that you are carrying with you as you move forward onto your new projects?
Karyn Kusama: That's an interesting question. Definitely. I feel like I made a movie that felt very, very true to me and true to who I am and what my real anxieties and fears are about the world. That very honest place for me was a really healthy thing, and I definitely want to keep stretching that muscle because it requires compromise and sacrifice. It requires saying “no” to a lot of things. It requires letting go of certain ideas about what kind of artist I want to be—doing my own thing and embracing that and looking to make the most interesting personal work for me. That's something I'm really happy to have taken away from the whole experience.
Excellent. Before we go, I’d love to hear more about XX, your next foray into the genre. How excited were you to be asked to be a part of a project like this, where you get to team up with these other amazing female filmmakers? It's no secret that there is a need for female voices in films these days, so how validating does it feel to have a concept like this coming around?
Karyn Kusama: It's great. It was fantastic. I'm really happy I got to do it. I got to make something, again, personal and specific to me, and I am really looking forward to seeing all the other films. My greatest hope is that this does really well in a way that if it makes enough money and has enough of a reasonably profitable model around it, all those filmmakers can get paid more next time, and actually have more resources to work with.
Right now, we're all kind of hamstrung by incredibly low budgets, so that's the only thing I'd like to see change, is that opportunity to be bigger in terms of the resources. But in terms of having the opportunity to make my own little movie and have it be something I care about, once again, it’s all been fantastic.