When I graduated high school, I promised myself that by the time my ten-year reunion rolled around, I would gladly accept the invite just so I could show up and brag about the high profiled life I imagined for myself. I admit, I was an imaginative, nerdy, and socially awkward 18-year-old who spent more time hiding in the library than socializing with my graduating class. I hated my small town and my small school because I felt like an outsider due to my love of horror movies and questionable music. I often fantasized about life after high school because it made it easier to survive four years of drudgery and awkwardness. I convinced myself that in ten years, my high school memories would become moot because by then, at the reunion amongst former classmates, my former lonely and depressing high school existence would pale in comparison to the re-invited (and imagined) me.
Of course, when I finally received that invite ten years later, I was living anything but the glamorous life. Instead, I was an ex-grad student, working two jobs, stranded at O’Hare Airport with my soon to be ex-boyfriend and his argumentative parents. Heavy snow and worse winds grounded flights that morning and instead of flying back to my sub-par life, I was literally stuck in that awful place where Hell had frozen over. The actual invite, an impersonal Facebook page, turned out to be the icing on top of the proverbial cake that day and it did not take me very long to decline both the invite and the reunion. I choose “saving face” over politeness and revisiting a past and people I’d rather forget. Especially since I had very little to show for myself.
Despite my own discomfort with that reunion, I understand the lure of accepting such invitations. Nostalgia is a hell of drug and there is this idea that the past is always better than it was. In most cases if it wasn’t, there’s an equally worse idea that by revisiting the past you can make peace while also snubbing your nose in its direction. Perhaps, this is why I was interested in watching a psychological thrilled called The Invitation this past weekend. When I heard there was a movie about a dinner party gone wrong, I was pretty sold on the plot only because I needed it to confirm my unease of things going wrong, especially at reunions. I mean when you think about it, what could be more terrifying than a dinner party with old friends who haven’t seen in years that doesn’t go as planned.
While I love slasher movies, I tend to appreciate horror that is more muted in its approach to the genre. The Babadook, The House of the Devil, and Goodnight Mommy are films I appreciated immensely because the horror is as psychological as it is terror-filled. The Invitation falls into this category.
Logan Marshall-Green (Tom Hardy’s American look-a-like) stars as Will, a grief-stricken father who accepts an invitation to a dinner party hosted by his ex-wife, Eden. Will has not seen Eden since the tragic death of their only child two years earlier and he has mixed feelings about Eden’s sudden reappearance and invitation. Despite the short notice and his reservation of attending the party, in the home he once shared with her and their son, Will accepts the invitation in hopes of making peace with Eden while also confronting his own personal grief head-on.
However, the moment, Will and his new girlfriend, Kira, arrive, he is immediately unsettled by the memories that resurface, but more importantly by the sense that the invite itself is not what it seems. With only a few mutual friends in attendance, Eden and her new husband, David’s, peculiar behavior is both amusing and disconcerting to everyone in attendance. David makes sure to lock all the doors and windows and discourages the guests from using their phones or leaving the property. Eden is surprisingly vague about where she has been the last two years, except to say she is cured of her emotions, including her grief, thanks to David and a controversial self-help group they joined in Mexico, which helps individuals confront their mortality.
While the other guests are a little put off by the minute quirks of the night, Will is the only one convinced that Eden and David are not telling the whole truth about the invite. Will’s sense of paranoia only worsens when one of the guests insists on leaving after an uncomfortable exchange and he witnesses Eden and David’s calm and reserved facade continue to crack as the night progresses. Will believes that Eden and David’s true intentions for the gathering is more nefarious than social, so he sets out to discover the real reason for this dinner party, even if it means re-opening some old wounds that he has yet to confront and experiencing a horror he didn’t know could exist.
As a huge fan of well-crafted thrillers, this movie was a roller-coaster of suspense and terror. I was hooked from the beginning because the movie builds on the slow sense of doom for everyone at this seemingly normal dinner party. Will’s character is so consumed by his own grief, he is convinced, even before entering the party, that something terrible is waiting around every corner to upend the night. This paranoia isolates him from other guests and makes him come across as crazy, while he tries to convince everyone that they are in danger of some unseen terror. Throughout much of the movie you aren’t sure if Will’s paranoia is linked to the death of his son or if he’s right and something terrible is about to happen. Both conclusions are terrifying to consider because Will is either the threat he tries to warn his friends of or he is just a victim lying in wait, whose fears were legitimate from the beginning.
I absolutely loved this film! I admit the buildup and the pacing is a little slow, but if you are patient, by the time you get to the end, you will feel either terrified, satisfied, or in my case, both. It is a slow thriller that exposes subtle clues to the real intention of the invitation right from the beginning, but by the time you put it all together, it’ll be too late to look away. I doubt fans of classic blood and gore horror will enjoy The Invitation as much as I did, but as far as terrifying dinner parties and reunions go, this movie is in a league of its own.
I give it 4.5 Bloody Mary’s out of 5.