(The gist: The Invitation was another slow burn suspenseful film at the Stanley Film Festival, but it was completely worth it. The story is engrossing; the characters are rich. I thoroughly enjoyed it.)
My viewing partner and I seemed to select slow burning horror mystery after slow burning horror mystery at the Stanley Film Festival. In one day, we saw The Treatment, Goodnight Mommy, and The Invitation, all of which shared a deliberate pace and suspenseful questioning. So it was impressive when The Invitation managed to stand out as the conclusion of the trinity and claim my favorite of the day.
The Treatment follows David as he and his girlfriend accept an invitation to his ex-wife’s dinner party. David and Eden divorce following the accidental death of their young son, and returning to their house proves difficult and traumatizing for David, especially when Eden and her new husband introduce their guests to their new belief paradigm (read: cult) called The Invitation.
More than anything, The Invitation is most successful with crafting suspense and instilling doubt in the audience. The point of view of the film is brilliantly restricted to David's experience, which made it like reading a book told by an unreliable narrator. David begins to question the invitation being offered to them and the intentions of their hosts, and we questioned right along with him.
I probably oscillated between believing David had things figured out while the other characters doubted him and deciding he must be paranoid multiple times. The film swings the evidence back and forth, perpetually keeping you guessing, forcing you to update your assumptions. I enjoyed that I thought I had it all figured out on more than one occasion then the plot would throw a wrench in my logic.
The mystery is slow, creating a lot of rich suspense as you crawl toward the edge of your seat. This slow pace also allowed the characters to be fully realized. Each character is developed naturally in the progression of the story, their qualities and idiosyncrasies are built upon the way you would get to know someone at a real dinner party. This approach, paired with excellent acting, got me invested. The characters began to feel like real people to me, and I cared what happened to them, which only heightened the suspense of the film.
And true to its festival-mates, once The Invitation unleashes the horror and violence elements, it is a bloodbath. As if these movies store up all blood and death for the last reel.
Under the suspense and the plot, The Invitation is about pain. The pain of loss, the pain of surviving that loss, the pain of normal life, the pain of returning to your old life, even the physical pain of dying. This theme of pain was integrated and examined from so many different angles that it permeated the entire film.
I enjoyed pretty much everything about The Invitation. The story is well crafted and well executed. The writing and performances created engrossing characters and a suspenseful mystery.