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IN REVIEW: “The Invitation”

Rating — 3.5/5

The Hollywood Hills may be dressed up as well to do and magical even, but there is a seediness underneath that is undeniable. In The Invitation, Tammy Blanchard plays a wealthy woman, with a new husband and a new outlook on life. She has guests — longtime friends and ex lovers — over to her home for talk and dinner. Dressed in sexy but virginal looking white, she speaks ever so calmly, no matter if she has just handed you a glass of wine or a slap to the face. Smiling widely, she’s a socialite on the verge of crying at any moment, her eyes always watery.

Her character is Eden (fittingly), and she isn’t fooling anyone with this facade. Something is wrong on this night. Something is wrong in this city. Something needs to be said by someone. Anyone.

On the way to the party, her ex husband Will accidentally hits a coyote with his car, forcing him to finish it off with a tire iron. This act of mercy or therapeutic aggression sets the tone for what is near Hitchcockian delight. The Invitation is a slow burner. It goes through the motions of the mundane greetings and pleasantries, small talk and hugs, all the while providing movement and tone that keeps you on an uneasy thread. Paranoia, anxiety and even a little exposure therapy go a LONG way with me. I like Lars Von Trier’s use of those elements, but I appreciate Karyn Kusama’s clever and subtle approach more so. Without her at the helm, what felt like an at one time rudimentary indie horror/thriller script would’ve stayed just that. Her interpretation certainly elevates.

If you have the urge to visit the wikipedia entry for this movie, please do not. Not so much because what happens at the climax must remain a secret — it’s pretty much a given from the get go that what goes down will go down — but because it’ll spoil an interesting trick on the audience. We FEEL something bad is going to happen, we’re given hints and peeks at something bad ABOUT TO happen, but we don’t exactly know WHEN or HOW. It’s a wonderful feeling to be surprised, it’s even more wonderful to expect the expected and STILL BE surprised. STILL BE shocked.

If you have the urge to visit the wikipedia entry, again, please do not. You may recognize a few familiar faces in the cast, but don’t go confirming who they are or what they’ve appeared in before. For someone like me who has seen plenty of films, I ruined for myself a particular character, simply because I know of him from one obscure performance. A performance that I’ll forever associate with him. I wonder if Kusama knew this and agreed to cast him based on that. This is something I would love to know. Was this a play on my previously viewed experiences with him? A toying of typecast?

I’ve never been to Hollywood myself, but I’d have a hard time walking around without a friend at my side or some hand sanitizer in my pocket. The Invitation certainly doesn’t do anything to quell my nervousness, but it does use it as a tool on me and on itself. We all have hangups that make our stomachs churn like rock tumblers, but few have or will ever confront them, figuratively or directly. This is distilled through Tammy Blanchard’s Eden — both the character she plays and the home that could’ve been a paradise. She is a bundle of nerves wearing a mask. Director Kusama exposes this fact, shares a few peeks inside and eventually removes the mask for all. It’s fearsome, it’s thrilling, it’s sad and it’s a relief.

What could be more relieving than honesty? Than acceptance? Than confrontation?

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