The Invitation has finally been released on Blu-Ray in the UK after it was dumped onto Netflix in the UK. It’s Karyn Kusama’s follow-up to Jennifer’s Body, a film that just gets better with age, and which has been labelled as something of a “forgotten feminist classic” by critics. Kusama actually got her start years previously, have been John Sayles’ assistant throughout the ’90s. In turn, Sayles partially financed her debut film, Girlfight. Her most recent film was the neo-noir Destroyer, which is probably her best to date, and starred an unrecognizable Nicole Kidman.
Kusama’s films tend to have a strong female protagonist, and the interesting thing about The Invitation is that it doesn’t. The Poundland-Tom Hardy Logan Marshall-Green stars as Will, who is invited to a dinner party at his ex-wife’s house. They divorced after a horrible tragedy took their son. Now they have new partners, but it seems like she wants to reconnect as friends—but do she and her new husband have an ulterior motive? It seems like the couple have joined some kind of self-help group, but is it really a dangerous cult, and are the other attendees members too?
It’s interesting that I saw this after the indie 1BR, which has drawn numerous comparisons to The Invitation while on the genre film circuit at the moment. I actually think 1BR deals with cults in this context far more effectively, and in the end much more hauntingly. It’s also interesting that 1BR has a strong female protagonist and this one doesn’t, despite Kusama’s track record—maybe it would’ve worked better with one, and I’m sure that in the post #MeToo era in Hollywood, it would have done. 1BR shows that director David Marmor really did his research on cults in Southern California, while with The Invitation it seems like they just watched a couple of docs, with the result just a “dinner party from hell” film with the cult aspects as an afterthought. Both films have effective apocalyptic reveals at the end. but 1BR just edges it for me—although Bobby Shore’s cinematography in The Invitation is undeniably better than the very flat aesthetic of 1BR.
The cast is a solid ensemble of character actors you’ve seen in other film and TV stuff. Logan Marshall-Green is probably the biggest name, and he has the movie-star, leading-man looks, Most people probably saw in Prometheus first, he was the star of last year’s Upgrade (also getting a Blu-Ray from Second Sight this month), and it’s his movie, after all. Tammy Blanchard plays ex-wife Eden, and John Carroll Lynch plays Pruitt, a late arrival at the dinner and one of the very best character actors around.
The film initially was originally set to be a more starry affair, with Luke Wilson, Zachary Quinto and Topher Grace in some of the roles, to name a few. Jordi Vilasuso plays Miguel, the boyfriend of another dinner guest, Tommy (Mike Doyle). In the right lighting, Vilasuso looks like a dead ringer for Zachary Quinto, so much so I was like “is that Spock?” Maybe the film would’ve been better with more name actors, but it’s a decent little indie thriller with some solid twists and turns. In the end, The Invitation left me a little cold, but who knows, maybe if I had seen it before 1BR, I would’ve responded to it more. I’m incredibly picky about films about cults, so much so that Martha Marcy May Marlene, which was received raves, was one that I couldn’t stand despite its excellent cast. The Invitation, however, is a film that I will give a second chance to at some point in the future.
The release from Second Sight will be most likely the definitive release of The Invitation, as it carries over the commentary and making-of featurette from the US Blu-Ray release, along with newly filmed interviews with Karyn Kusama, Producer Nick Spicer, screenwriters Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, and the actress who plays another one of the dinner guests Sadie, Lindsay Burdge.