Saturday, August 6, 2016

Some loose thoughts on The Invitation (2015)

I saw the movie The Invitation last night at about 1 a.m., which really is the best time to watch a horror film – when everything is dark and the noises go bump in the stillness of the night. Naturally, at that unique time of day and with a movie this strange and eerie, some thoughts were borne out of the experience which I wanted to write down as quick as possible. So I did. Here they are. I'm basically just going to ramble about it for a few paragraphs, just a bunch of loose thoughts. Let's talk about The Invitation. There'll be some spoilers, I guess, but I'm not going through this scene-by-scene like in my normal reviews.

Director: Karyn Kusama
Starring: Logan Marshall Green, Tammy Blanchard

The story is about this guy named Will coming back for this reunion with his ex-wife and a bunch of their friends. Apparently Will and his wife's son died two years ago, and after that his wife joined this religious group out in Mexico, which is always a good sign by the way. The group's philosophy is that apparently, letting go and dying shouldn't be this scary concept. Which seems like an awfully long way to go to make a religion – why not just get some pills and cash out now? Why wait? But it's a religion for them, I guess, and it starts to make for what could charitably be called an awkward house party. There's a sense of unease immediately, with the crowded camera shots full of all these characters and the almost toxic, claustrophobic sense of politeness – you can just tell there's something “off,” and the movie never skimps on that feeling. I was uncomfortable all throughout this thing.

The movie's first two acts especially are so exquisitely creepy. This is masterfully headfucked, bizarre, trippy stuff, like Stanley Kubrick's The Shining – that was really the prevalent influence I kept being reminded of through the whole movie. There are all these weird, head-trip moments where you don't know what's going on and what's just in someone's head. Will, the lead, seems composed at first, but the memory of his lost son slowly starts to show that maybe he isn't a reliable narrator either – you wonder a few times what exactly is just his warped perspective and what isn't. The ending of the movie is much more straightforward, and doesn't have that kind of ambiguity, but I liked the way they built it up anyway. At some moments before the climax, the movie has these surreal scenes that sort of dive down a rabbit hole of fucked-up-ness, but then cut back to normalcy and you wonder if that scene even really happened. It doesn't end up mattering if it really happened, though, because the effect is still so macabre.

The climax turns into an all-out bloodbath. It becomes something similar to the movie End of the Line, which I panned way back in 2014, but the execution is what matters – the 'cult end of days killers' theme is done so well in this film. As I mentioned, the ambiguity and the surreality of the early parts of the film were excellent, but I am not one to turn my nose at a good dose of violence, either. This climax is full of great stark, surprising, bloody moments, and it works. The final twist at the end is one I've seen done before, and maybe it doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but I was rolling with it the way this movie told it. I had no great complaints.

I think beyond everything else, it was the little touches that made this movie so good to me. The villains in this film are part of this cult that wants to enact mass suicide. But when they die, they don't seem like they're at peace as they said they'd be. When these cult members die, they don't reach some kind of perfect bliss like they blather on about all throughout the first two acts – they're in pain, screaming and they don't want to go. I think that's a kind of insight that puts this movie way above most other horror movies.

It's a nuance that shows an understanding of people's psyches where, even as far gone as these villains are, we're all the same when we're dying. The reactions of the main characters, the good guys, killing them are appropriately horrified, too; another thing most movies do not get right. I think when you can feel the deaths at a more visceral level, see the pain, then a horror movie is even more “real.” That's why The Invitation succeeds.

Image copyright of its original owner, I don't own it.