Given the strength of Matt Manfredi and Phil Hay’s script for The Invitation, I hesitate to mention their previous credits. Suffice it to say they wrote Karyn Kusama’s Aeon Flux adaptation, a flawed but overlooked gem of characterization, stylish action tableaus, and sci-fi gobbledygook. Kusama’s movie credits have mostly been genre stories with strong female characters, from Girlfight to Aeon Flux to Jennifer’s Body, also a flawed gem that has the distinction of being Diablo Cody’s least Diablo Cody script.
You might think Kusama is outside her comfort zone with The Invitation, in which an ensemble cast has a dialogue-heavy dinner party. Think The Man from Earth or Coherence, but with a director who really knows what she’s doing. Would I scare you off if I said The Invitation could easily be a play? What if I stipulated that it would be a really good play?
Although Kusama doesn’t shoot it like a play (you can’t pan across a sumptuous feast on a dinner table if the audience is looking up at a stage), she films her actors with the intimacy of someone directing a play. She focuses intensely on lead actor Logan Marshall-Green, a Tom Hardy doppelganger who effortlessly manages Hardy’s bottled up intensity. She works wonders playing against Michiel Huisman’s easy charm, not so evident in Game of Thrones, but used to great effect opposite Blake Lively’s lively performance in Age of Adeline. And oh, how she rolls out the great John Carroll Lynch, whose notable credits are too numerous to list, so I’ll just mention Frances McDormand’s husband in Fargo and Lennie James’ mentor in that one episode of Walking Dead.
Kusama also demonstrates a Polanski-esque talent for blurring the line between the mundane and the menacing. She wrings from simple social cues a sense of something slightly off. She catches you off guard and then reassures you that you just imagined it. “Yeah, they’re a little weird,” says one of the characters, “but this is LA. They’re harmless.” The Invitation smiles coyly as it slithers along the line between social paranoia and malice. Are you watching a psychological thriller? An indie drama? A horror movie?
Whatever you call it, The Invitation is partly about the anxiety of catching up with friends who have changed over the years. Who are these people you once knew so well? What have they become? What have you become? It’s also about the impossibility of coming to terms with a malevolent universe. Anyone who can, anyone who does, anyone who manages Tammy Blanchard’s sad desperate smile, must be mad. Something must be wrong with those people. Right? Or is something wrong with you? When The Invitation eventually decides, it sure does decide.
The Invitation is currently in theatrical release and available for VOD. Support Qt3 and watch it on Amazon.com.