Indie Film Spotlight: “The Invitation”

Welcome to another edition of, “Indie Film Spotlight!” Today we will be covering a recent indie gem about the most awkward and uncomfortable dinner party in the history of dinner parties: “The Invitation.”

The Invitation, directed by Karyn Kusama (Girlfight, Jennifer’s Body) follows Will (Logan Marshall-Green) while he attends a dinner party at his former home, as he starts to think his ex-wife (Tammy Blanchard) and her new husband (Michiel Huisman) have sinister intentions for their guests.

Courtesy of Drafthouse Films

Courtesy of Drafthouse Films

Yes, you read that correctly. A man is invited to, and attends, a dinner party at his former home – which is now owned by his ex-wife and her new husband – because the idea of an awkward and unsettling dinner party wasn’t enough.

Instead, what we get is an incredibly engrossing, slow burn, tense 100 minutes with one of the most gut-wrenching, yelling “what the fuck?!” payoffs I have ever seen.

Courtesy of Drafthouse Films

Courtesy of Drafthouse Films

When we start to talk about this film, we must start at the top with director Kusama. She has the unfortunate distinction of being listed as the director of such widely-panned, punchline flops such as Aeon Flux and Jennifer’s Body since her triumphant debut as the director of the absolutely great Girlfight. 

While Aeon Flux  and Jennifer’s Body – though the script was just awful for the latter – are pretty bad, there is a trend here with Kusama – when she has full creative control of her vision, she knocks it out of the park. The film was independently financed and distributed, allowing Kusama full control and a chance to prove to everyone that she was not a one-trick pony.

She is at the top of her game here and really squeezes every ounce of tension out of the characters, the space, and every bit of dialogue until you are squirming in your seat.

She grabs you by the throat and refuses to let go even when the end credits begin to roll. Kusama expertly plays with the language of cinema with some clever, off-center framing, effective use of flashbacks, and an absolutely killer sound design that refuses to let you relax. She melds all aspects of cinema together in off-beat ways that are arguably more effective than if she would’ve shot the film in the more traditional sense.

Being that the film is set in one location, Kusama needed to find interesting ways to keep tensions high and subvert expectation and she does so flawlessly, thanks to a great script turned in by writing duo Phil Hay (who is also Kusama’s husband) and Matt Manfreidi.

Hay and Manfreidi crafted a really layered and tense character study that was a mashup of multiple genres. The film is part horror, part dark comedy, part slasher flick, part experimental – all under the guise of a thriller – which is a Herculean task to accomplish.

Other than the melding of genres, Hay and Manfreidi are able to make something as inherently mundane – and overdone – as a dinner party, incredibly interesting and engaging with sharp, cutting – often times brutally funny – dialogue that starts to peel back the layers of the onion of what exactly is going on without giving anything away.

They give us just enough kernels of information to keep us from getting completely lost or losing interest and string us along while we race to figure out what exactly is happening – all before ripping the rug out from under us with one hell of a third act reveal.

Courtesy of Drafthouse Films

Courtesy of Drafthouse Films

The cast matches Kusama’s directorial intensity with terrific performances all around. While Logan Marshall-Green is superb as Will, Tammy Blanchard as the conflicted and incredibly damaged Eden is the real star here.

She manages to be mysterious without being off-putting, and just when we are about to make up our minds about how much we don’t like her, she carefully reveals another layer of her tortured soul that keeps you secretly rooting for her. Her performance is truly one to behold, and one I hope will be remembered and recognized come awards season.

The Invitation is an incredibly slow burn with one of the best payoffs in recent memory. It also happens to be one of my favorite films of 2016 so far, and I highly recommend giving it a watch when you can. It’s on all VOD platforms, including the Apple Store, as of this writing, so I highly recommend at least a rental to experience this gem.

That’s all, folks! Thanks for joining me on this edition of Indie Film Spotlight and I hope you enjoyed it! As always, you can find me on Facebook and Twitter, and feel free to join my Facebook group where we talk all things movies, television, comics and more!

This is Jovanni, last survivor of the Nostromo, signing off.

FEATURED IMAGE CREDIT: DRAFTHOUSE FILMS.