I guess I'll start by saying that I practically slept through the first 80 minutes of this 100 minute film. But the last 20 minutes more than make up for the slow pace of the overall piece.
The Invitation is a simple enough premise: Will and his girlfriend attend a dinner party hosted by his ex-wife and her new husband. It's being held at the home Will once shared with his family, before an accident there killed his son and tore apart his marriage.
The movie is listed as a psychological thriller on Netflix, and I sort of forgot about the genre after the first half hour. The movie lulls you into such a false sense of security - it seems to center much more on coping with grief and the evolution of relationships than it does on actually scaring its audience. For a while, I really thought it had been simply mislabeled.
Like any great scary movie, The Invitation succeeds because it consistently amps up tension and then quashes it right before it boils over.
For example, Will notices his host David has locked the front door after his guests arrived. Most of us wouldn't pick up on this. If we did see it and think it odd, we wouldn't necessarily say anything. But Will isn't afraid to break social etiquette: he insists that locking people in a house is a fire hazard. And like any good-natured host with innocent intentions, David agrees and unlocks the door.
In this scenario - and in similar moments throughout the film - both the party guests and the people watching from the couch are reassured. It plays out every awkward guest scenario you've ever been in. Who, at one point or another, hasn't visited a friend's home and been politely bemused by the way they do things? You peek into the fridge and silently judge your buddy for drinking skim milk, but surely there's nothing nefarious or strange about it. You'd never call him out for it.
It's moments like this that kept me on board, but it's a not movie for everyone. Minor social faux pas don't make for thrilling entertainment, as horrifying as Ms. Manners might find them. But Will's shrewdness kept me hooked. Something was up, and I was going to stay with this movie until it played out.
I'm so, so glad I did. The movie goes from zero to 100 in a matter of moments. A crunchy personality quirk reveals itself to be deadly and the entire night's purpose is called into question. The twist (and I hate to call it that, since looking back, the climax is so obvious) is much more sinister than I could have expected, which sounds ridiculous since this is a horror movie, after all.
The intimacy of the group is built up in the first hour - you know who's dating who, who's got a drug problem, who's cheating on his wife. These are familiar people. You know them, and even if you don't necessarily trust them, you trust social conventions.
But the final shot goes from a razor thin focus on a party to a potential disaster affecting far more than the dozen or so dinner guests. It makes the movie. And it makes me want to re-watch and pick up on things I might have missed while I was drowsing. Not since The Mist has an ending left me so simultaneously horrified and satisfied.
I don't love this movie, but I love the last half hour. To recommend skipping the first half, though, would let the sails out of the story altogether. Go in like I did: with as little knowledge of this movie as possible. You already know too much. Abandon the blog here!