I had heard that you should watch “The Invitation” without reading anything about it beforehand, so that’s what I did. The only information I had was from the advertising blurb: “While attending a dinner party at his former home, a man thinks his ex-wife and her new husband have sinister intentions for their guests.”
This review contains minor spoilers, so if you want to stay true to the aforementioned suggestion, stop here.
“The Invitation” performed well when it was released in 2015. The movie focuses on the interactions between couple Will (Logan Marshall-Green) and Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi), their dinner hosts David (Michiel Huisman) and Eden (Tammy Blanchard), and several other guests. It was directed by Karyn Kusama.
From the first scene, it becomes clear that this is going to be a serious movie. On the way to the dinner, Will and Kira injure an animal on the road, and they have to mercifully kill it. Ominous music plays; they are visibly shaken. I thought I was watching a movie about a dinner party.
The film plays on your expectations from then on. It wants you to believe that something evil is in the air, but it makes you wait and wonder so long that you begin to doubt anything will happen. If you are lucky enough to have avoided the trailer and marketing, which give away a significant part of the ending, you might start to wonder if the movie is a big trick. Is the shocking climactic twist we expect inevitable, or are we being led on?
Suspense and tension are built in several ways. Atmospheric music and lighting convey a sense of danger. Since “The Invitation” plays out in real time, it sometimes has no music for stretches as long as 20 minutes, but occasionally, a low drone adds dark meaning to a seemingly innocent hallway conversation. Another way is the gradual revelation of discrepancies in characters’ stories—about who was supposed to attend, why the doors are locked, why dangerous chemicals are discovered in the hosts’ bathroom.
During the first hour, we learn all about the history of the characters’ relationships, like Will and Kira’s marriage, which fell apart after their son was killed in an accident. The timing and delivery of dialogue is so awkward that you have to believe it was intentional. Characters wait five or ten seconds to respond. They would walk away in the middle of conversations. No one seemed interested in lightening the mood or giving easy answers. It was this, not the nearly unbelievable ending, that stretched my suspension of disbelief almost to the breaking point — but maybe this is a tension-building device in itself.
Some call the slow pacing of “The Invitation” problematic, but I think it is important to the story. The movie is 100 minutes long, and not until we are one hour in do we see the first hard evidence that something is wrong. The movie gives you a lot of time to question everyone’s motives, change sides and evaluate your opinions, which is a critical part of the viewing experience.
I recommend watching it so you can see how it uses its “shortcomings” — slow pacing, uncomfortable dialogue, inevitable ending — for psychological and dramatic effect. Even though you know something terrible is going to happen at the end, you don’t.