The Invitation (2015)
Dir. Karyn Kusama
31 for 31 is a curated film program for the month of October. Conceived of as a compilation mixtape, the program explores the historical and cultural legacy of Horror cinema. Consider this my billet-doux to the genre.
Writer-Director Karyn Kusama got screwed over by Jennifer’s Body. That 2009 film was badly mismarketed towards horny males looking to gawk at Megan Fox, when it was really an empowering feminist narrative. In light of the “Me Too” movement, it feels like a downright prescient gem. The poor experience led Kusama away from Hollywood to tackle smaller more intimate features. Thankfully, the experience did not sully her interest in Horror, allowing her to direct 2015’s The Invitation.
Logan Marshall-Green, looking like he walked off the set of Legends of the Fall, is our anxious protagonist, Will. We meet him as he’s driving to a dinner party in the Hollywood Hills hosted by his ex-wife Eden and her new husband David. Eden and David have returned from a stint in Mexico where they were involved with a group that promotes spiritual healing and other wacky New Age bullshit. This reunion, or “communion” as David calls it, will be the first time anyone in their circle of friends has seen them in two years. If this situation does not make you uncomfortable, you are a replicant.
To make matters somehow worse, Will is still crippled by the death of his son. His long, sad face betrays how poorly he’s dealt with it in the years since. He’s a shell of a man, and walking through his old home draws up painful memories that continue to haunt him. So as Eden and David, along with their weirdo friends from Mexico, begin to act like they are holding tryouts for the Manson family; these feelings of loss, anxiety, and suspicion threaten to consume him. Will has a terrible hunch in his gut that something horrible is about to happen, but there’s a small part of him that believes his grief may be driving his doubts.
Personal anecdote: I saw this film alone — and I don’t just mean went and saw it by myself. I mean I was literally the only person in the “theater” to watch it. In my defense, a friend bailed on our plans, but still; when I rolled up to Videology (RIP) for a 10 pm screening on a Monday night, they probably thought I was a lunatic. It remains one of the most pathetic moments of my life. The sole bartender eventually joined me — likely out of pity. We had a few beers, a couple of laughs, but overall it was embarrassing. The experience, however, did have a visceral effect on me. The Invitation is essentially one long, socially awkward event that you are forced to sit through after all. So as my own social anxiety for feeling like a huge fucking loser crept in, I felt drawn in further by the film.
Despite its limited budget and scope, Kusama directs the shit out of this film. Her visual acuity allows a Muholland terrace to feel downright claustrophobic, and by the film’s volatile climax you will be gasping for air. This is supported by the terrific performances of the cast and the genuine chemistry they share with one another. It really does resemble a party of friends in the Hills, which is perhaps the lasting lesson that Kusama wants to impart on us: that white people in LA are freaking weird.