Of all the holidays celebrated worldwide, no single day is loved by the Substream staff more than Halloween. With October’s arrival, the time has finally come to begin rolling out a slew of special features we have prepared in celebration of our favorite day.
31 Days Of Halloween is a recurring column that will run throughout the month of October. The goal of this series is to supply every Substream reader with a daily horror (or Halloween-themed) movie recommendation that is guaranteed to amplify your All Hallows’ Eve festivities. We’ll be watching every film the day it’s featured, and we hope you will follow along at home. Reader, beware, you’re in for a… spooky good time!
Day 14: The Invitation (2015)
Upon release earlier this year, The Invitation immediately brought Coherence to mind. Another example of low-budget dinner party horror (or domestic thriller, what have you), it was a bit of genre entertainment that made ripples on VOD, turning heads even in more mainstream discussions. The movies themselves are quite different, but both exemplified the changing film business and the possibilities of VOD. They both also became immediate staples in my yearly horror/sci-fi rotation.
The Invitation was aided by another narrative—a story of vindication for director Karyn Kusama. That story has been told a time or two, but it led to a tremendously talented director making this taut, ’70s-influenced paranoia thriller on a $1 million budget. And this thriller, perhaps more so than her television work, got Kusama’s career back on a positive trajectory.
The title has a dual meaning, but the setup is simple. Will (Logan Marshall-Green) and his girlfriend Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi) are attending a dinner party hosted by David (Michael Huisman) and Eden (Tammy Blanchard). Eden and Will are exes with a tragic past; Eden left Will for David and disappeared. Now, two years later, Eden returns with David, inviting all her old friends over for a dinner party.
Though it has its bigger moments, much of The Invitation is a slow-burning thriller. It takes its time escalating to its finale, turning up the heat so slowly as this reunion confronts Will with both an odd present and a tragic past. The heat is built with several small moments—a character digging through a pill drawer, or relaying a quiet, terrifying story, or staring for just a bit too long. Kusama’s camera can linger even longer than her characters’ looks, shifting color palettes play a key role in setting the mood, and the film owes much of its tonal success to the beautiful work of cinematographer Bobby Shores.
For all the tricks that Kusama and Shore can play, the movie needs its actors to rise to their level. We experience the events of the evening through the eyes of the grief-stricken Marshall-Green, viewing each oddity as he does—with suspicion—and we, like him, aren’t sure what to make of them. They just seem off. You’ve seen movies—you know the type of moment. Tension is so much more effective when it isn’t obvious or easy, and Kusama never fully tips her hand.
It is grief that fuels Will’s paranoia, and it is the grief that helps separate The Invitation from a bevy of other small, serviceable genre exercises. David and Eden are both struggling with it, but as in life, each must face their pain in their own way. It’s the thing that drives them apart, and the thing that binds them together. It’s a hell of a thing to reckon with, and it isn’t pretty.
While Green’s performance is the most important, there are a few other characters who shine. Michael Huisman brings the same effortless cool to this role as he does to his Game Of Thrones and Orphan Black characters. As Daario, as Cal, and now as David, we trust him. We’re just not sure we should. Little needs to be said of John Carrol Lynch—he’ll work forever, as few actors slot better into small roles for big men of questionable (but probably sinister) intent. Lindsay Burdge is unhinged.
Whether the ending is to your taste is something that can only be decided upon finishing the film. Until then, just know that The Invitation is a must for those who seek the paranoid unknown and broken humanity of reality. Appealing, right?