The Invitation

| July 24, 2016

Karyn Kusama’s career as a feature film director has certainly been unique. After her debut feature Girlfight made a huge impact on film festivals in 2000–including a win at Sundance for Directing and a tie with Kenneth Lonergan’s You Can Count on Me for the festival’s Grand Jury Prize–Kusama was enlisted to direct the big-screen live action adaptation of the cult animated series Aeon Flux (2005) for Paramount. The film was not the hit the studio likely hoped it would be, and Kusama did not return to the director’s chair until Jennifer’s Body in 2009, scripted by Diablo Cody. While that film hit theaters in the middle of a twin backlash against its screenwriter and star Megan Fox, it has subsequently gained a cult following. Kusama’s latest film The Invitation is another major departure from her previous work, further establishing her as a director doing fascinating work in a wide variety of cinematic terrain.

Will (Logan Marshall-Green) and his girlfriend Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi) have been invited to a dinner party being thrown by Will’s ex-wife Eden (Tammy Blanchard) and her new husband David (Michiel Huisman). Eden and David still live in the house where Will and Eden lived with their son who died in an accident, and Will has not returned to the home since. Already on shaky psychological ground in the house, Will becomes even more upset when Eden and David and another couple at the party begin to tell the other guests about the group they’re in called The Invitation. Banding together people through their shared grief, The Invitation appears to the others to be a cult but Eden and the other members swear it’s helped them in tangible ways. David shows the group an unsettling recruitment video and they play a game taught by the Invitation designed to make people uncomfortable. As the evening continues the tensions heighten, and Will has to decide if The Invitation is the creepy cult he thinks it is or if he’s just dealing with some serious unresolved issues.

Taking place almost entirely in one house over the course of a few hours, The Invitation starts off relatively low-key. The tension begin coiling early, assisted by the claustrophobic nature of the location and a slate of excellent performances. The film is expertly paced, ramping up slowly through a series of flashbacks and character interactions that elegantly reveal much about the characters and their relationships to each other. The large cast ably gives each of their characters a distinct personality, often having to do so in the space of only a few moments of front-and-center screen time. The house in which the story takes place is initially warm and inviting, but its deep shadows reflect the treacherous emotional terrain Will deals with while his friends chat and joke over glasses of wine. In short, Kusama and her collaborators have crafted a spellbinding psychological thriller with a serious gut-punch of an ending. No doubt anyone paying attention to her work is once again waiting impatiently to see what she does next.

Drafthouse Films released The Invitation on Blu-ray/DVD on 26 July 2016. Special features include a full-length audio commentary with director Karyn Kusama and writers Phil Hay & Matt Manfredi, a 10-minute “making of” featurette, two music videos, and trailers. In addition to a download card for a free digital copy of the film, the Blu-ray/DVD combo pack includes reversible cover art and a 16-page booklet with a director’s statement and an interview with Karyn Kusama by Britt Hayes.

About the Author:

Jason Coffman is a film writer living in Chicago. He is author of "The Unrepentant Cinephile," and a regular contributor to Daily Grindhouse and Film Monthly as well as a member of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle. He is co-director of the Chicago Cinema Society and proud owner of 35mm prints of Andy Milligan's "Guru, the Mad Monk." Follow his long-form film writing on Medium:

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