Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Invitation: Dinner Party with Kool-Aid

Never ignore the weird things people say. We are socially conditioned to explain away odd statements. We want to think so-and-so “just didn’t realize how that sounded.” Unfortunately, this just sets us up for even worse awkwardness. A grieving father recognizes the bizarre nature of his ex-wife’s cult, but his ragingly anti-social behavior will not help his cause in Karyn Kusama’s The Invitation (trailer here), which releases today in a special BluRay-DVD-digital bundle.

When Will and Eden’s son Ty died in a freak accident, it killed their marriage as well. For the last two years, he has tortured himself, while Eden disappeared off the face of the earth. It turns out she was in Mexico with her future second husband David and members of a supposed grief support group called Invitation. However, even David Miscavige would admit they display cult like tendencies. Plus, the leader vaguely resembles Wayne Dyer.

Having finally returned her luxurious house in the Hills, where she once lived with David and Ty, Eden throws a homecoming party for her old friends. She also invites Will and his relatively new significant other, Kira. Pruitt and Sadie, two of Eden’s fellow cult members are also there to give Will bad vibes. Before long they bust out the cult recruitment videos, but everyone except Will is still willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Through rapid cuts, Kusama shows us brief, nearly subliminal flashbacks, flashforwards, or representations of Will’s inner emotional turmoil. It is intended to keep us off-balance and guessing whether Will or David and Eden are the nutty ones, but it only clouds the narrative.

However, Kusama is spot-on in the ways she depicts the other guests bending over backward to explain away the dubious behavior of Eden and David and Pruitt and Sadie. Kasuma and screenwriters Phil Hay & Matt Manfredi perfectly nail the ways cults manipulate people. It is a pretty darned frightening process to watch unfold.

Arguably, all the time Will spends sulking on his own ought to be a credibility problem, considering he is at a dinner party with old friends, but you can hardly blame him. The only guest who seems like any fun is Michelle Krusiec’s hard partying Gina, but at least she gives the film constant energy boosts. As Will, Logan Marshall-Green broods like a monster. John Carroll Lynch (Marge Gunderson’s husband in Fargo) is creepy as heck as Pruitt. Likewise, Michiel Huisman’s David is smoothly sinister, but Tammy Blanchard’s drugged out expression and Morticia Addams wardrobe are dead giveaways as to Eden’s true colors.

Eden’s well-appointed home is also a real design triumph. Looking both tony and eerie, it facilitates the story quite remarkably. Periodically, Kusama will push the envelope of credibility, but when she simply lets events unspool, it is uncomfortably believable. Definitely recommended for horror fans (despite some quibbles along the margin), The Invitation is now available on BluRay/DVD from Drafthouse/MVD.