Two of the most awkward social situations you can find yourself in as an adult are reunions and dinner parties. When the two are mixed in director Karyn Kusama’s (Jennifer’s Body, Girlfight) latest, The Invitation, the results are a chilling, brutal and wholly unforgettable horror experience that I haven’t been able to get out of my head since seeing it last night at SXSW.
The Invitation follows Will (Logan Marshall-Green) and his girlfriend Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi), who are on their way to reluctantly attend a mysterious dinner party hosted by his ex-wife Eden (Tammy Blanchard) and her new husband David (Michiel Huisman). Their mutual friends, who also haven't seen Eden and David in the two years since she and Will’s marriage fell apart due to devastating circumstances, are also invited to this reunion of sorts, and all parties are curious to see just what exactly drove Eden and David away and how they’re doing now that they’ve returned.
Eden and David have a few surprises cooked up for their longtime friends though, in the way of their two new ‘friends’- Sadie (Lindsay Burdge) and Pruitt (John Carroll Lynch)- whom they met while in Mexico at a retreat designed to help people struggling with grief and coming to terms with painful memories and experiences. This isn’t just any ol’ retreat, as we learn that Eden and David (as well as their new pals) accepted “The Invitation” while they were south of the border- a cult-like group who focuses on transcending the pain of the human existence, instead focusing on moving forward beyond their traumas with the promise of great things awaiting them in their lives after death. And as you may have suspected, Eden and David are ready to share this gift with those who mean the most to them in this world, but their longtime friends aren’t so willing to accept their ultimate invitation, leading to a harrowing and savage showdown amongst the group.
While it may be easy to think of The Invitation as yet another horror movie about the evils of cult worshipping, the film does several remarkable things that makes it a standout amongst its peers. More than a story that explores just what draws people into cults, The Invitation takes that idea a bit further and fully examines the power of grief, guilt, death and how our society tends to self-medicate via many forms (religion, social media, booze, sex- you name it) rather than deal with the pain they’re feeling straight-on. It may be one of the more realistically raw portrayals of loss that the genre world has seen in some time.
What makes The Invitation truly compelling- beyond the stellar performances from one of the best ensembles I’ve seen in the horror genre in some time and a truly fantastic script too- is how plausible the whole scenario Kusama presents here when you take a look at our society today. Considering how quickly people get bent out of shape over disagreements on social media (especially over hot-button topics like religion and faith), it’s not too far-fetched to think that some of the dangerous ideas introduced in The Invitation could very well happen in a scenario such as this. And that realism is probably the scariest aspect of all, ultimately making Kusama’s effort here some of the most assuredly confident and nuanced work from her to date and one of the most devastating horror films I’ve seen in years.
Movie Rating: 4.5/5