The Invitation made its initial rounds in 2015 hitting up a bunch of film festivals across the world, and drumming up some of the most impressive under-the-radar buzz in a long while. It's impressive how much interest this garnered with a trailer that shows absolutely nothing happening. Seriously check it out below if you haven't already, it's a great case study in the less-is-more school of marketing. Flash forward to today, the movie is available on Netflix and is generally freely available to see on whatever format you want. If you haven't already, go ahead and watch the movie then circle on back here and read our inane and meandering review. Caution ahead, here there be spoilers. Are you illiterate? But like just sort of illiterate so you've managed to read this far? Well friend, we've got you covered. Click on the button below to skip all this reading and listen to our podcast!
Mark: The Invitation. Gee whiz. How bout this one, eh boys? We reviewed it in short as part of HRR back in April, but honestly none of us had much to say about it - the sound was good and no one knew what was going on was more or less the consensus. Well, now here we are. Four months older, four months wiser, four months more jaded. Let’s talk about this thing, Jack.
Jack: I feel like I've increased my jaded stat by much more than four months over the last four months. And yeah, we've touched on this before, and Jake even reviewed it for a CR a while back. Spoiler alert; he fucking loved it. That may have raised my expectations going in.
Mark: I can’t say my expectations changed all that much at all before actually seeing the movie. I had heard a few mentions of it being a (spoiler alert) cult movie, but honestly what does that mean anymore? Has it developed a cult following? Are they trying to say it is about the occult? Is it about horses? Are the horses in a separatist religious sect with atypical ethics? Because if so that would make this a cult film about an occult colt cult. Unpack that one, Ebert.
Jack: Damn man. I like how you're the one advocating for “cult” being added as a subgenre, and then you're the one to break it down.
Mark:The movie opens with a scene that is wholly unattached to the rest of the film. It introduces us to Will (Logan Marshall-Green), and his girlfriend Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi) on a secluded road as they hit a coyote with their car, and proceed to mercy-bludgeon the thing with a tire iron. This scene isn’t bad or anything, it’s well shot and acted, but I just don’t get why it exists in the film other than maybe just putting a bad taste in our mouths to start things off?
Jack: Well, it's the first instance of a recurring theme: mercy. They mercy kill the coyote, the cult is about using death for mercy to end suffering, and they mercy kill other characters later. Huh, made it through the whole movie just then. End of review?
Mark: It would be if that statement were something even remotely approaching an intelligent thought. You and Jake both seem to think that mercy was a bigger theme in this thing than it seemed like it was to me. As far as I can recall there was literally only one mention of mercy in the entire film - and it was referencing the coyote. I think we’re probably going to have to go a little deeper into this one. Once the duo finally make it to the destination to which they were…. invited... we get a better picture of what this movie is about: dealing with your idiot friends' bullshit. I wouldn't know anything about that though. Totally foreign concept to me.
Jack: Yeah man, they show up to Eden’s (Will’s ex wife) house and we meet her and her new paramour David. Turns out it’s been a couple of years since Will and Eden parted ways after some traumatic incident. Since that time, Eden’s been down in Mexico, getting passionate about her new lunatic belief system. Like Tom Cruise on Oprah level passionate.
Mark: As you’re introduced to the group you get some very opaque exposition implying that there’s some tragedy or shit that went down and this is the first time the group has gotten back together in a while. It’s awkward, but people are trying to make it work again. Within about half an hour (seemingly) of them starting to hang out Eden, David, and their random definitely-not-a-crazy-person friend Pruitt put on a video of them watching some chick die of cancer as part of their cult. I don’t know what kinda dinner parties you go to, Jack, but this is a pretty bold tactic to get the party rolling.
Jack: Woof. This is sort of where my immersion starts to break a little. Pruitt (played by the guy who played Drew Carey’s older brother on the Drew Carey Show) skulks around in the corners of rooms, and locks the door in such a way that they cannot be unlocked by Will and the gang. That combined with the fucking death film is enough to send me heading for the hills. Except I guess the house is in the Hollywood hills, so . . . send me heading away from the hills. I would leave is what I'm saying.
Mark: The evening escalates more or less on a linear path from there. The over the top ridiculous cult overtones only being overshadowed by Will being wildly incapable of dealing with the situation. It is slowly revealed, through a series of flashbacks and hallucinations, that Eden and Will split up because they lost their son in a freak piñata accident. As much as it sounds like it should be, that is not an autocorrect based mistake. Their kid was brained by a baseball bat during a birthday party. At the very least I gotta say kudos for going with a fairly bold strategy on that one, but it also took me out of the situation a bit just to have a moment to process that shit. How do you land on “freak piñata accident” when you do your storyboarding?
Jack: You know, it's interesting. I kind of thought the kid was bludgeoned to death by a psychopath kid at the party. The movie leaves it a little vague. This movie trusts its audience a lot, and doesn't over-explain anything. But hold on a second, because you glossed a little bit over “escalating.” What you meant there was that they start to play a fun party game to get back on track after the death movie, but Pruitt wrecks it by telling a story about how he literally murdered his fucking wife and spent 7 years in prison. Only one guest wants to leave, and rest are all, “ehh, you know, people are who they are.” What the actual fuck?! I like you and all Mark, friends for well over half our lives and shit, but if you invite me to a dinner party, show me a snuff film or whatever, and then one of your new friends tells me he doesn't feel bad about murdering his spouse, I'm fucking leaving. End of story.
Mark: As Will slinks about the house being literally the worst dinner party guest in the world, the party keeps escalating in the background. Basically the movie follows this pattern: Will slinks around being a loner, David brings him back to the party, the party goes all cult-y, Will freaks out, Will leaves to be a slinky loner, repeat. Each cycle reveals a little bit more about Will, and a little bit more about the nature of the hosts. We could go scene-by-scene on this one if we wanted to, but it wouldn’t really do much to explain how well the movie executes on its very basic concepts.
Jack: So we've briefly discussed how this is a cult, and the cult is called the Invitation. At some point in the evening, Will watches David go outside and light a single ornate red lantern. No explanation, nothing. But remember it because it'll come up later. It's pretty much Chekov’s red lantern. And there's one other scene I want to bring up, one that felt like the turning point of this movie to me. The scene of which I speak is the start of the actual dinner. So, up until this point, Will’s been struggling, but quietly and all introspective-y. Around this scene though, someting happens that makes his struggle much more external. You see, another of their buddies, Choi, was supposed to be at the party, but hadn't shown up yet. Will manages to get one bar of service, and gets a voice-mail from Choi saying he's outside the house before anyone else. Figuring Eden and David have disappeared Choi, Will finally snaps, and freaks all the way out. He starts screaming at Eden and David about where Choi is. It's a crazy and tense scene. It's really reminiscent of that scene from The Wire where D is losing it on Stringer bell about where the fuck Wallace is.
Mark: Once they run through the Will freak-out cycle a few times we find our group all gathered around the kitchen table to drink a nice glass or port. At least, I think it’s port. I just assume that’s what rich people drink at dinner parties… usually by this time at my dinner parties we’re all blasted on cheap beer rapidly switching between youtube videos that I can’t believe you’ve never seen and yelling about how awesome Eternal Darkness on the Gamecube was. In our defense, it was pretty awesome.
Jack: Yeah man, none of this shit is happening with our crew, because we’d be far too drunk to a) have an escalating plan or b) not be screaming at each other about the death film and threatening to MMA each other. But Will is a lot less drunk, so he's pieced together (from some very conveniently placed clues, mind you,) that this is actually a cult and the wine is poison. He freaks the geek out, and starts smashing glasses. He could win any smash-off, but not before one friend takes a sip.
Mark: And she does not fare well having drank the kool-aid so to speak. She dies. This is really where the turning point of the movie is - this is where it shifts from tense psychological drama to just straight up home invasion. Kira and Will get split off from the dwindling numbers of the party, and manage to hide out in a closet that is roughly as big as my old apartment. They watch as some violence happens, and then Will looks at Kira and basically tells her to get ready to do some hardcore murderin’. It’s something we’ve seen before in slashers and home-invasions, but never really quite the way they do it here. For whatever reason,I found this one way more intense and believable than all the others that I’ve seen. Especially Hush, that one was retarded.
Jack: Yeah, it's a really effective sequence that embodies the best of the home invasion subgenre, though this is really reverse-home invasion. One scene in here bugs me, and that's when Kira picks up a five-barrel revolver from which five shots have been fired, opens it, and says “it's empty.” No it fucking isn't. It shouldn't be anyway. Full of spent casings? Sure, but not empty. That broke my immersion too. Fuck. Anyway, Will, Kira, and another guy kill all the cult people.and survive. Yay.
Mark: After the action dies (literally) down, there’s a bit of falling action dialogue between the survivors. It’s your standard “my bad - shouldna tried to kill ya - sorry” type bullshit. I was little worried that they were going to go out on that, but then the final reveal drops. Remember that Red Lantern? It had a deeper meaning.
Jack: Told you it was Chekov’s lantern. As they look upon the Hollywood hills, they see general chaos. Fires, smoke, all that stuff. They hear sirens and helicopters in the distance. And in each yard where all this shit is going down? You guessed it: A red lantern. Turns out pretty much all of Hollywood is part of the Invitation, and everyone done got dead. Fade to black.
Mark: Brilliant analysis. Ratings!
For 1, think of how Stephanie Tanner would rade being rude:
For 10, think of how awesome it was to get an N64 for Christmas
Mark: 9 - I can’t honestly say I’ve ever seen a movie with a similar narrative to this one. That isn’t to say that there isn’t one, but at the very least this movie is doing something that you don’t see everyday with its narrative. There’s a few scenes, particularly toward the end of the movie, that lean pretty heavily on some deus ex machina, but even in those cases the complaint is relatively minor.
Jack: 7 - This is an original story. And for the most part, it’s pretty well done. Also the amount that I hate David’s character speaks to how well he was written. That said, it’s certainly not without its issues.
WORLD BUILDING / IMMERSION:
Mark:7 - I think on balance I like the freak pinata accident aspect of the narrative. Kudos to the screenwriters for having the chutzpah to go for that one. However, as much as it helped the movie in the story category it did take me out of the film for a second just to appreciate the insanity of it all. Immersion suffers a little bit further for me in that I would’ve been out of that house the second the first cult thing dropped.
Jack: 6 - So what’s very good about the immersion and world-building is that the tension this thing made me feel was real, and stayed constant. That’s doubly impressive given how much some of the other stuff pulled me out. That stuff I’m talking about is the absurdity of staying at that house given what happens, and the thing with the gun. Even being livid about those, I still felt super-tense and that’s cool.
Mark:7 - This movie has tension in spades. It has some breaks in immersion, but I think it’s important to note that the breaks occur mostly outside of the scenes that are meant to freak you out a bit. There’s a good balance of psychological horror and good ol’ fashioned violence. The best thing this movie does is bring in Kira as a total outsider. It takes the story from something that probably couldn’t happen to you (because your friends are mostly sane) to something that actually could be possible to get rolled into (because your friends’ friends are wildcards).
Jack: 5 - This thing’s scariness all comes from tension, and the ratcheting up of that tension. It does that well, but it doesn’t do much else. I can’t quite put my finger on why, but it just didn’t really do it for me.
EFFECTS (OR JUDICIOUS LACK THEREOF):
Mark: 8 - This is definitively in the “judicious lack thereof” category. That being said they do quite a bit within the realms of sound (both diegetic and otherwise) and set design to help add to the feel of the movie. The violence is well done and realistic enough to not break immersion when it happens. Some of the wounds Pruitt sustains look only so-so, and when you have so little to rate a film on that sort of stuff stands out.
Jack: 8 - Not much to add there. I agree with mark and will just add to that the fact that the score is terrific and blends seamlessly with the movie to the point where you might not even notice it.
Mark: 8 - I can’t help but think this would’ve been higher had I known less about the movie. Honestly just knowing that a cult was involved and that the red lantern was important was enough to spoil this a bit for me. That being said, this is still one of the best movies I’ve seen this year and will absolutely be recommending to anyone who asks.
Jack: 6 - I liked this movie, but I didn’t love this movie. I can’t really fault too much of what it did, but I just didn’t love it. It’s not a movie I came away from feeling like “oh man I just saw the best horror movie!” It’s good, and it’s above average, but it’s not great.