Day 3: Netflix Roulette – The Invitation

I ended up playing another round of Netflix Roulette, and it’s movies like this one that keeps me playing. The majority of the time I come up with movies that are, at best, passible or, at worst, eye-gougingly bad (okay… so, I wasn’t sure if I was spelling gouging correctly, so I hit smart-lookup in Word (the built-in dictionary was no help) and the system ended up searching for the hyphenated phrase… I was treated to several pictures of the end results of eye-gouging… oh, and I had just finished lunch… look, I know I write a blog about horror movies, so it might seem strange that I would be squeamish when it comes to these things… apparently I can turn it off while watching fiction… but let’s just say, that I may need to eat a second lunch after my stomach settles)… where was I? Right, the movie I watched! Even the horrible google-search that occurred (stop thinking about it, brain!) couldn’t ruin this movie. Not to be hyperbolic, but it was nearly perfect. So, don’t expect a lengthy review. It’s easier to tear apart than praise… at least for me.

The Invitation (just now realized I didn’t say the name in the opening paragraph (bad form)), is a 2015 horror-thriller. Interestingly the writing-director team (director Karyn Kusama and writers Phil Harv and Matt Manfredi) has done relatively little work in the genre (though, separately Kusama worked on the films Jennifer’s Body (which, in my opinion is actually somewhat under-rated) and XX (a fun horror-anthology movie that came out earlier this year, which I might write up in a future post (she wrote and directed the last segment)). You wouldn’t know it however. The Invitation is a classic slow-burn horror movie. The plot (which, I’m going to keep purposefully vague) revolves around a group of friends who have lost touch and reunite over a dinner party. There is a past tragedy at the center of the friendship and questions arise as to whether or not there is something sinister at the core of the invitation… mayhem may or may not ensue. The film takes the viewer on a (squirmy and uncomfortable) journey and therefore, I don’t want to give anything more away. The basic conceit of the film, however, plays on the question of whether to listen to one’s gut or be polite and just follow norms and courtesies. In other words, it plays on the nearly ubiquitous fear of coming off as rude.

It’s a tough tight-rope to walk. The filmmakers have to come up with a believable plot while avoiding predictability. What I appreciated most is that every time I thought I was getting ahead of the plot the film would throw something at me that would have me questioning my beliefs about the road ahead. It makes the viewer sympathize almost completely with the protagonist (who, is not always clearly the protagonist). I qualified my statement above with the word “nearly” in front of perfect, because I felt there was one moment that occurred too early in the film. It is a moment that, I feel, goes too far and stretches credulity. In other words, it’s the moment where I would have gotten up and left were a guest at the party. That being said, it was a necessary scene and if the filmmakers waited until later in the film, they would have needed to stretch the running time, which also would have weakened the film. I don’t have a solution… in fact, maybe there isn’t one. It’s just something I noted.

Here are a couple of quick thoughts about some other things the make this film great:

  • The setting is beautiful and contained.
  • Related, it is clearly an inexpensive film, but it looks beautiful. Such great use of lighting.
  • John Carroll Lynch (one of those you’d-know-him-if-you-saw-him actors) is reliably creepy yet somehow also vulnerable and human.
  • Love the ending… it completely earns it.

I know I’m somewhat late to the party (this movie has gotten solid reviews for nearly two years), but if I still beat you to it, it’s definitely worth attending (by the way, I didn’t realize I was working on a pun until I was nearly done with the sentence… please forgive me).

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