The Invitation is a psychological thriller that does its job well. The movie starts out with Will and Kira driving to an unknown location in the Hollywood hills. The couple seems distressed about where they are going and while they are talking they strike a coyote on the road. Karyn Kusama does a great job establishing Will as a character within the first couple of minutes. Will sees the coyote in pain and decides to take it out of its misery before heading to their location.
Information about everyone in the party is slowly discovered without being bombarded by what the circumstance has brought. We meet what seems to be old friends Gina, Tommy, Miguel, Ben and Claire. Again Kusama gives us all we need to know about all of these friends within moments of meeting them without it feeling contrived. This allows the audience to fully submerge themselves into the shoes of Will. Eden and David are the host of the party and from the get-go these characters do seem forced and somewhat off-putting.
The night continues as the group awkwardly tries to catchup after two years of being apart and two new characters introduced, Sadie and Pruitt. Kusama choses to show the past relationship of Eden and Will in glimpses instead of full on flashbacks. It’s as if we cannot fully experience the past because it is too painful for Will to remember it at once and can only handle it in glimpses. The viewer is pressured to make assumptions as to what happened that caused Will and Eden to separate and that caused so much pain to drive them both to the edge. Eden admits that her life is better now because she has learned that you do not have to live with pain and that it is optional. Eden and David then tell everyone that they are part of a group that teaches you to not be afraid of death and that you can live without the pain. The group is both intrigued and bothered by the idea that their friends are in a cult. The night then starts feeling like a recruitment session and less of a small gathering between friends.
Will is suspicious of the whole thing. One of the first thing Will notices is that all the doors are locked creating a feeling of claustrophobia. No one else seems bothered by this but when Will makes note of it, as the viewer it plants a seed of uneasiness. The second thing is when Claire starts feeling uncomfortable, after David suggest a game that leads to Pruitt confessing he murdered his wife, and tries to leave the hostess make it seem like it is not okay for her to leave. She finally heads out but Pruitt follows her because he has to move his car from the driveway. Will is weary about Pruitt going out behind her and watches as she leaves. Out of view Pruitt approaches Claire’s driver side window and Will believes something strange happened. When Pruitt comes back in he says he simply asked Claire to stay but she still wanted to leave.
Kusama keeps the tension high throughout the night making you as the viewer question every move that Eden, David and their friends make like Will would. At one point Will gets a voicemail from Choi, Gina’s boyfriend who had not arrived yet, saying that he was already there before anyone else had gotten there. Will rushes into the dining room accusing Eden and David of something sinister. After all the commotion Choi walks into the house saying that he was sorry that he left before even coming in because his worked had called. Here is when the movie finally shines its brilliantness in your face. Are we simply seeing things through Will’s point of view? Has there not been anything weird going on this whole time? Am I going crazy? What is life and have I lost my mind?
This slow crawling movie somehow made it deep into my skin and I was feeling very uncomfortable with what just happened. See I had called what would happen in the movie during the first twenty minutes but around this time everything I thought was going to happen was wrong. When presented with the characters I felt like I knew them right away from just a brief introduction so with the tactic of being forward I was lead to believe that I knew what the film was about pretty quickly.
So everything is fine, well expect Will because he is apparently still dealing with some shit that is making him crazy, and the friends continue their dinner with wine and cake. At this moment Will believes he made the whole thing up and has come to terms that the death of his son is still effecting him greatly. Something clicks in Will’s brain and as the group is about to drink the wine he freaks out again and begins to smash everyone’s drink so they are not able to drink it. So is Will crazy? Wait did David make it seem like he was crazy in order to take the heat off himself? Sadie, the cult friend, attacks Will after he stops everyone from drinking the wine yelling “You ruined everything” will trying to hurt him. Will pushes her off him causing her to hit her head like Pruitt did to his wife eight years ago. Kira yells “She’s not breathing” but the group realizes she is not talking about Sadie but about Gina who had drunk the wine.
Will was right the whole time and something sinister was happening. Although yes we have realized that their friends are probably going to murder them all that night there is some sense of relief. You are no longer on the edge of not knowing what is real and what is in your head. The Invitation uses one setting, a small group and paranoia in order to imbed itself somewhere in you that makes in uncomfortable to watch. I can compare this to Coherence (2013) that uses all of these tactics but The Invitation somehow manages to magnify this to a level that makes you question your own sanity.