The Invitation is a thriller that defies the odds. This movie should have been a B-movie that sunk without a trace in the midst of the year's releases. Why? Well,
it's super low budget, having been made for about $1,000,000, and filmed in 20 days. It was written and directed by the people that gave us R.I.P.D., Ride Along, Æon Flux, Jennifer's Body, and the 2010 Clash of the Titans remake. Even the main plot device of the film has been used in many schlocky horror movies.
Yet the movie transcends all those limitations to become a truly tense thriller. It actually had me biting my fingernails. Why does this movie work so well? There are a number of ingredients that were mixed into this movie in just the right proportions.
The Most Awkward Dinner Party Ever
The movie focuses on Will, who has suddenly received an invitation to a dinner party from his ex-wife and her new husband after being out of touch for two years. Reluctantly, Will takes his new girlfriend Kira with him, and they head to his old house, where he meets several other friends... and a couple of strangers. Will's ex-wife, Eden, and her husband David, introduce the party to the teachings of a New Age group that they have joined - and which causes them to act very strange.
There's a very well-done scene where the group plays a game called "I Want". Pay attention to that, and compare it to what Eden and David are officially trying to get across to their guests. It's a common element in actual New Age groups.
The Need To Be Polite
While Will is getting more and more paranoid about what's going on, the rest of the party tries to counterbalance him by being very polite and overlooking the things that are bothering Will. The movie is subtly asking us, "Is there a limit to politeness? How much should we overlook in the world, in order to keep the peace?"
And perhaps the most important question the movie asks is "Just because you're paranoid, does that mean you're wrong?"
The Long Fuse
Where I live, people celebrate the 4th of July not only by setting off fireworks, but also dynamite. The bigger the piece of dynamite, the longer the fuse you need to attach to it, so you can get safely out of the way.
Some people may find the movie kind of slow. I see it as a long fuse. By the time you finally figure out whether Will is mentally unstable or really onto something, it's too late. Everything explodes. And it explodes loudly.
This is partly a ghost story. But not a spooky supernatural one. These are real ghosts, the ones that get deep into your soul and haunt you forever. These ghosts are worse than anything that might float through your house and play your piano.
The Betrayal of Letting Go
We learn early on that there is some traumatic history between Will and Eden, which was at least partly to blame for their divorce. But the movie just drops pieces of that backstory slowly into the increasingly strange evening in which Will finds himself.
Will and Eden each struggle with the loss they suffered. But they struggle in different ways. Will hangs on tightly to the ghost, afraid that letting go would be an insult to the memory of what happened. Eden goes the entirely opposite direction. By joining a New Age movement, Eden feels she has successfully moved on from her painful past. But in the process, she may have betrayed herself.
The Wounded Coyote
At the beginning of the movie, Will and Kira hit a coyote with their car, and must decide what to do with it.
At the dinner party, Kira can be seen as the human version of the coyote - she's almost feral. But when she's wounded at the end, Will doesn't finish her off. And it's Kira, not Will that takes care of Pruitt when he's wounded and in a similar position as the coyote at the beginning.
Raising the Red Lantern
In some cultures, especially in Asia, the color red is used to symbolize a celebration, a reunion. This is commonly done as a display of a red lantern. Pay attention to how the color red is used in the film - both inside and outside the house. There is more than one way to raise a red lantern. There is also more than one type of reunion.
The Desperate Solutions
Ultimately, the dinner party is a metaphor. The movie is about how people handle the worst traumas of life. Some go deep inside themselves, and hold the pain close. Others run from the pain, even if it means running from themselves. These are both desperate, but understandable, ways to handle the situation. The dichotomy between Will and Eden illustrates one of the most fundamental of life's problems. It is up to you to decide if one of them had the better solution.
The secret ingredient: the subversive ending
In a final example of turning expectations around, look at who survives all the way to the ending of the movie - the black girl and the gay guy. The very characters that usually are dead before the halfway-point of these types of films.
What did you think? Is it a boring B-movie, or a thriller that's wound so tightly that it almost blows up in your hand?
And what other metaphors can you find, besides the ones I mentioned above?
Let us know!