The Invitation (2015) ☆☆☆(3/4): One suspicious dinner party

“The Invitation” is a little but solid piece of work which deftly toys with sinister possibilities. Right from the beginning, we feel rather uneasy and uncomfortable about what is being unfolded in front of us, and we come to wonder what is really going on around its troubled hero and several other persons who happen to be invited to a seemingly cordial dinner party.

During the opening scene, we are introduced to Will (Logan Marshall-Green) and his second wife Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi), who are going to a dinner party to be held by his ex-wife Eden (Tammy Blanchard) and her new husband David (Michiel Huisman). Around two years ago, something quite terrible happened to Will and Eden, and that eventually led to their divorce, but now Eden and David invite not only Will and Kira but also several other close friends of Will and Eden.

Because Eden has not contacted Will or any of their close friends during last two years, Will wonders why she suddenly invites him and their close friends, and he also cannot help but become uncomfortable as Eden and David currently live in a slick modern house where Eden and Will once lived before their tragedy and the following divorce. He does not mind at all that Eden found someone else to lean on just like he did, but, as reflected by one brief flashback shot, the house instantly evokes old memories which still feel painful to him, and that accordingly makes him more awkward.

However, Eden does not seem to be as troubled as her ex-husband. She looks calm, happy, and peaceful in her appearance, and she and David are gladly serving an expensive type of wine to other guests who already arrived before Will and Kira. Although one of the guests has not come yet, the mood soon becomes more cheerful as everyone drinks and talks, but Will continues to wonder about Eden and David’s intention.

Not so surprisingly, he soon comes to sense something odd about Eden and David. It seems they are planning something more than a mere dinner party, and Will’s suspicion is more increased due to two unexpected guests who are simply introduced as people close to Eden and David. In case of a young woman named Sadie (Lindsay Burdge), it is quite apparent that there is something wrong about her, and her rather neurotic appearance certainly makes a big contrast with an imposing man named Pruitt (John Carroll Lynch), who does not say much but constantly feels like the elephant in the room even though he just stays in the corner as others keep talking and drinking.

Now I should be more careful about describing the plot for not spoiling your entertainment at all, but I guess it is not much of a spoiler to tell you that Eden and David turn out to have something to show to Will and other guests. After a little presentation of what recently saved from their respective pain and grief, they eagerly explain to others on how much they have felt good since then, and that does not particularly click well with Will, who turns out to be still grieving over what happened to him and Eden at that time despite having accepted what was lost forever from them.

Anyway, Kira and other guests subsequently try to brighten up the mood before the dinner is served, and they find themselves playing a little private game as suggested by Eden and David. All they have to do is simply expressing what they want or wish, but then the mood becomes awkward again when Pruitt suddenly says something quite serious in front of others. Although the camera is simply watching him, John Carroll Lynch, who can be quite amiable as shown from “Fargo” (1996) but also can be very sinister as demonstrated in “Zodiac” (2007), firmly holds our attention during that moment, and we accordingly become quite unnerved just like others around him on the screen.

Especially after that moment, Will comes to have more suspicion on Eden, David, and their two strange associates, but he is not so sure about what to do with that. After all, everyone around him still seems to be having a fun time despite those awkward moments, and the atmosphere is more brightened up around the time when the dinner is finally served to them, though his mind is often immersed in the memories of Will and Eden’s past. Are his growing uncomfortable feelings simply caused by the remaining grief and pain inside him? Are David and Eden just a well-intentioned couple who want to share their spiritual experience with others? Or….

Dexterously holding the cards behind its back via a series of effective plot turns, the screenplay by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi keeps us guessing until it reaches to the inevitable arrival point, and director Karyn Kusama, who has been mainly known for “Girlfight” (2000) and “Destroyer” (2018), did a competent job of dialing up and down the level of suspense along the plot in addition to handling well a small group of performers in the film. Like Lynch, Tammy Blanchard, Michiel Huisman, and Lindsay Burdge often look shady as required, and Logan Marshall-Green and Emayatzy Corinealdi are also effective in their low-key acting.

On the whole, “The Invitation” may not surprise you that much if you are a seasoned moviegoer like me, but it will still engage you via its taut storytelling and good mood, and I personally think it is better than “Destroyer”, which is not good enough in my trivial opinion despite Nicole Kidman’s admirably committed performance. It surely looks modest on the surface, but the movie works better than expected, and you will probably find yourself thinking twice about being invited to a dinner party after watching it.

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