Say what you want about films costing a fortune to make nowadays, but if you combine the simple mix of a good script set in one location and a director with razor sharp directing skills you are going to make a good film, money or not. It surely helps that The Invitation is shot in a luxury Los Angeles home (I’m guessing owned by one of the producers) so you can get your cast to just drive up the road when they have a few weeks spare here and there. It also helps that the director is Karyn Kusama (Girl fight and Jennifer’s Body) who must know a few talented actors in the Hollywood hills.
Such a simple premise helps get everyone together: a grieving man is invited to his exes house (also his old house) with his new girlfriend, his exes’ new partner and all their old friends they haven’t seen for years. Obviously there will be tensions at any dinner party with that mix but personally I would have said no fucking way to going to such a thing.
Logan Marshall-Green plays Will, the main character and whilst the film is almost like an ensemble piece, Kusama cleverly shoots the entire story from his point of view. Will is already a very damaged soul so we get to know a lot about how he has reached this point and what these people mean to him, mostly at the cost of the other characters being developed. This might seems like a slight on some of the other invitees to the party but Will’s grief and paranoia are the driving thrust of the film. Marshall-Green plays Will as a such a broken and lost man it is hard to understand how he even managed to talk to anyone new to get a new girlfriend, let alone why she’d put up with him. But Will also makes a great hero, his conviction that there is just something plain wrong about this party is like a Hitchcockian protagonist, albeit in a very different type of movie.
Of course the trouble with this kind of… chamber piece, I guess, is that to go into any more detail about the plot would completely spoil the film so I’m not going to say any more about it. I’ve probably already given away too much as it is. What I can talk about is how well directed the film is. I’ll talk about this in another review soon, but I was rewatching Jennifer’s Body the other day and, whatever its faults were, I was surprised at how well directed the film was. Each scene, and shot within the scene, were perfectly focused on what was needed to be put across in the story. This might sound like an obvious thing for a director to do but is surprising how many films do not have that sense of attention to what exactly is happening there and then and how that moment relates to the story as a whole. The Invitation also has this attention to the right detail of a scene, and by following the story through Will’s eyes the story progresses in the way the director wants it to progress. Karyn Kusama is not an overtly flashy director, it is clear she is more interest in the content of the film rather than just making it look pretty, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t know how to use the skills available to her. There is a fantastic slow motion scene which beautifully wracks up the tension whilst at the same time totally misleading the viewer as to what he or she is seeing.
There are a number of other lovely little bits like a shot of all the party attendees running playfully up the stairs, it feels like a light, breezy moment, but as we only see their feet we are never entirely sure what is really going on up above. There are lots of other little moments and details that add to the story but you can find them out for yourselves when you watch it, its just sitting there on Netflix waiting for you.
The Invitation is small and focused and doesn’t try to be anything more than what it is. Its rich with Los Angeles atmosphere and that culture’s unique worries and recent history, but it also uses LA to its advantage: taking what it has on its doorstep and making a good movie out of it.