LFF Review: The Invitation

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80%
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Inventive

Sometimes a little too slow, but Karyn Kusama's return to the horror scene ultimately packs enough punch in its finale to be a truly rewarding experience.

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Whether you notice it or not, the horror genre has certain mechanisms bred into its very nature. Messing with them is usually ill advised in Hollywood, hence the predictability of the common slasher – but Jennifer’s Body director Karyn Kusama doesn’t seem to really care about such trivialities in her new effort The Invitation.

Very much a triumph of the slow-build, The Invitation takes an extraordinarily simple set-up, a dinner party amongst friends – a bare-bones scenario that’s been exploited hundreds upon thousands of times in the past – and tries something a little different.

The film builds itself around grieving father Will (Logan Marshall-Green), still mourning the death of his young son two years after the accident that killed him, as he returns to the house where it happened to reunite with his estranged ex-wife, her new lover and his former friendship group. The party begins as one would expect, awkwardly, but when its hosts gradually begin to reveal the true nature of the gathering, things take a considerably more sinister turn and Will’s overall sanity comes into question.

It’s this central idea of the questionable protagonist that really powers The Invitation through the large majority of its tension-building early acts. Everything isn’t quite as cut and dry as one might first think, and by dragging in a great deal more emotion than what is expected from a genre flick like this, Kusama throws a complete curveball at the audience; were we too quick to judge? Is this really a standard slasher farce after all?

No spoilers here, but it’s safe to say that although elements of Kusama’s film may appear a little more obvious than what she initially teases, the way she builds up to it all is nothing short of exemplary. This is a real slow burn of a thriller. In fact, the entire first two thirds of the film are entirely devoted to laying the groundwork for what proves to be a total gut-punch of a finale.

To some this will be far too sluggish, and at times it does feel as if Kusama is treading water somewhat. But as expected, such issues almost all seem to melt away when the curtain is finally pulled back and the climax is delivered in a short, sharp and seriously dark shock to the system. And although this initial reveal does feel a tad blatant when it is finally set into motion, it’s swiftly followed by a tantalising final blow that’s sure to shift things into serious crowd-pleasing territory.

Even though Kusama doesn’t quite manage to tie up all of the many dangling emotional threads, and some key characters don’t really get enough narrative backing overall, The Invitation still proves to be an incredibly lean and exciting little chiller, that packs plenty of punch and hides its eventual surprises extraordinarily well. It’s set-up and overhanging arc may not be entirely innovative, but the way Kusama handles the film’s inner-tension is certainly a sight to behold, especially considering how effective it proves to be in the eventual reveals. Even for those less versed in the world of horror, The Invitation demands just a small amount of your time.

The Invitation (2015), directed by Karyn Kusama, is being shown as part of the 2015 BFI London Film Festival. Further information about the film including screening times and ticket information can be found here.

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Former Film Editor, Film graduate and general supporter of all things moving-picture related. Accidentally obsessed with Taylor Swift. Long-time Ellen Page fanboy.

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