In this image released by Drafthouse Films, Michiel Huisman, left, and Tammy Blanchard appear in a scene from the psychological thriller, "The Invitation." (Drafthouse Films via AP)

In this image released by Drafthouse Films, Michiel Huisman, left, and Tammy Blanchard appear in a scene from the psychological thriller, "The Invitation." (Drafthouse Films via AP)

Reeling it in: ‘The Invitation’ a challenge to accept

“The Invitation”

Drafthouse Films

1 hour, 40 minutes

 

This week, my options at the movie theater were to see the “Snow White” prequel that doesn’t include Snow White, or the next in a series of misguided attempts to restart Kevin Costner’s leading man career with “Criminal.” “Batman v Superman” was terrible, but the idea of playing what amounts to cameos in high profile movies is a good career movie for Costner.

I opted out of either of those options and instead decided to try a movie that’s been getting very good critical buzz that’s available right now on various streaming services. “The Invitation,” just going by the trailer, looked a little too uncomfortable and indie for me, but the reviews have been universally positive so I decided to give it a go. I’m glad I did, but it was rough.

The film — a typical low budget feature with no stars but including a few faces you’ve seen before, recounts one evening in the Hollywood hills. Will and his new girlfriend Kira have been invited to a dinner party at Will’s ex-wife’s home — what used to be his home before the marriage broke up in the wake of a tragedy. Will, still distraught and distrustful, makes a poor houseguest, but luckily all his old friends are there to cheer him up.

Also there is Eden, Will’s ex, and David, the new husband. Eden and David are both survivors of loss — that’s how they met, in a self-help group that preaches a way to end all pain and suffering. Creeped out yet? When Eden and David start soft-selling their group, known as “The Invitation,” the partygoers start to get uneasy, but none more so than Will.

But is it because there really is something sinister going on, or because the loss he feels is so keenly alive being in this house and around these people?

I was really worried “The Invitation” was going to turn into some kind of horror film — the trailer suggests as much and that’s not really the kind of movie I’m into. Without giving anything away, I will say that the film does deliver on the scares, but not in the way I was afraid of.

Playing Will is Logan Marshall-Green, an actor who’s done a bit of television but who’s biggest credit to date is from “Prometheus.” Marshall-Green is excellent, letting the tension build as he provides us our in into this frightening world.

Also on hand is Michiel Huisman, who viewers may recognize from this or that film, but will probably be most familiar with his work on “Game of Thrones.” Huisman, as David, is great — sympathetic, easy going, but with a barely hidden edge.

The other two I’d like to mention are John Carrol Lynch, a veteran character actor who you might remember as Marge Gunderson’s devoted husband from “Fargo,” and Lindsay Burdge, a young indie actress who’s managed to rack up an impressive number of credits in less than ten years of work. These two, playing Pruitt and Sadie, respectively, provide a menacing, outsider presence to the party.

I can’t say “The Invitation” is for everyone. It’s definitely a slow burn, and more problematic, it’s uncomfortable. Imagine being at a dinner party where everything’s coming apart and you don’t want to be there but you can’t look away. That’s what “The Invitation” is like.

The director, Karyn Kusama, doesn’t try to make the film particularly easy to watch — which isn’t to say that it’s not entertaining or that the performances aren’t good. It is, and they are.

But when you’re watching a movie on your own, in your own house in the easy chair and your pajamas, and you still find yourself talking to the screen and holding your hand over your mouth in shock, you know you’re watching something of a particular intensity that may not be for everyone.

For me, “The Invitation” was a bit of a chore, but in the end I’m glad I watched. The movie is definitely worth a try, but I can tell you one thing, I’ll think twice the next time I get invited to a mysterious dinner party.

Grade: B+

“The Invitation” is rated R for language, violence and sexual dialogue.

 

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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