Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Invitation

More and more, I seem to follow the advice of personal critics rather than the professional ones when it comes to watching films.  I still enjoy reading a review from some quarterly or online magazine, but I tend to lean more on the side of what some Average Joe will have to say about a movie in layman’s terms rather than going through a reviewer’s piece who feels the need to insert cerebral wording as if they’re some kind of artist…uh…never mind.  The point is, I like to follow what the typical crowd likes more than one movie critic.  So I have a habit of going with the given stars on a movie from the Netflix site and it never looks to lead me astray.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m going by a new rule now where I’ll only watch never-before-seen movies with an average rating of 3 stars or more.  I’ve tried viewing a few that had less—only because a web site or magazine raved about the film—but they always seem to let me down.  Don’t get me wrong, however, because I’ve seen some films rated 3 or above that I’d ended up turning off, not liking them.

So, especially when I shuffle through the streaming titles, I want something to grab me and make me enjoy the time spent sitting through a feature, so when I’d noticed The Invitation on the menu, and seeing that it had an average of 3.4 stars, I’d decided that I would fix my movie-watching night with it.  The good movies featured on Netflix streaming are few and far between, but they’re getting better.  For now, there are just too many one- to two-star movies in their list of titles that it gets tiring shuffling through them.

While attending a dinner party at his former home, Will (Logan Marshall-Green), thinks his ex-wife, Eden (Tammy Blanchard), and her new husband, David (Michiel Huisman), have sinister intentions for their guests.

I have to admit, my finger had been hovering over the power button on my remote during the beginning of this film.  In the start of this film, as the two characters, Will and his girlfriend, Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi), are driving to this dinner party and it’s just a boring start to the film as we see them in the car travelling to the get-together.  The acting seemed a bit wooden, but looking back, maybe the director was trying to convey Will’s state of mind as we later find out he and his ex-wife had lost a son.  But until I understood that, I felt that the onset of the story seemed to stand still.  But once the couple reach their destination, I had let up and relaxed my finger, yet I had other issues in which to contend.

So, the crux of the story, as mentioned in the synopsis, is that Will is meeting up with a group of friends that haven’t gotten together in a few years.  But the mystery is alluded to right away that Will’s ex-wife, Eden, and her new husband, David, hadn’t been heard from at all in two years.  Bringing the obscurity even further is why all of a sudden they decided to invite all their friends to their home—a home Will used to share with Eden and his late son, Ty (Aiden Lovekamp, seen in flashbacks)—for a dinner party.  And being there plays a big part in Will’s feelings and state of mind.

So when Will and Kira arrive at the house and greet the friends, making their introductions to Kira, the feeling shown is unease—right away.  Many times during the course of Will catching up with some of the other friends or the strange interactions between him and David made me wonder why he’d even stay at this point.  Hell, even a little accident that Will and Kira get into before getting to the party would be enough of an excuse for me to turn around and go home.

At this point, this is where The Invitation messes with your mind and leaves you constantly guessing as to what’s going on.  On one hand, you see it from Will’s point-of-view, seeing the suspicious actions of a few people and leaving you with the belief that something bad is going to happen, that he and Kira should just leave.  At some points, the movie makes it look like Will is paranoid, especially when he blows up at one point, pointing fingers at some of the others.  The back-and-forth they do in this film really puts you on a rollercoaster ride of emotions.

Not only do things not seem right, even though Will is apparently surrounded by old friends, but two dinner guests, Pruitt (John Carroll Lynch) and Sadie (Lindsay Burdge), add to the unease due to their behavior and background (at least explained by Pruitt himself).  The interactions from these two add to the what-the-fuck moments in the film and continue to leave you—the audience—guarded on what’s to come.

If there’s anything that I'd really liked in the film, one scene that kind of shocked me, was the final shot before credits roll.  It was an “oh shit” moment that I really did not see coming, not to mention the suggestion of a sequel.  Of course, I don’t want to give it away, but it opens up a whole new aspect to this movie and makes the story bigger and less isolated just in those few minutes.

Directed by Karyn Kusama (Jennifer’s Body, ├ćon Flux), she certainly set an apprehensive disposition in scenes when needed, somber at times, fearful as well.  But I think the acting took a hit when setting it all up.  The only time I’d really dug the acting was when Will started to speak up assertively and becoming accusatory…at that time, the movie really started moving for me, but I’d also noticed that this was well over halfway into the movie.  Sure, there’s a lot of character build-up—which you really need to have when you have such a large ensemble of actors working together and sharing a lot of screen time—but just the fact that I had checked my watch during this movie says a little about the average audience member’s possible investment in the story.  The writers, Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi—I believe they’re a writing team, as I see they’ve worked on a lot of productions together—really put together an original and intriguing story, so kudos to them.

So my final “bit” on The Invitation?

Like I’d mentioned, the acting was a bit sluggish here and there, the chemistry between a group of people—who are supposed to be all friends—wasn’t really apparent, but as I’d mentioned before, it might’ve been something the director was banking on to help out the vibe of the movie.  The story, however, keeps you involved and wondering how it was going to end, questioning whether or not Will was just going a little mad because of the grief he’d felt back at his old house and reliving a lot of old memories with his wife and son.  It’s definitely a moody piece that’ll make your skin crawl at times, will make you feel sorry for Will—sometimes for the other friends—but pays off by the time the film ends.  I definitely do recommend it and I’d probably see it again if it happened to be on one of the cable channels.  If you’ve got Netflix streaming, you should check it out.
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