The Invitation is as tightly wound and volatile as an IED. It lulls viewers with a Molotov cocktail of fine wine, a hint of overdue reconciliation, and a healthy dose of festering paranoia. It’s bound to burst at any minute—No Exit by way of Taxi Driver.
The setup is mannered in the best way. A couple hosts an elaborate dinner-party reunion for their closest friends. They’re an unlikely bunch, reconfigured by tragedy: the wife, Eden, was once married to guest Will—they divorced following the sudden death of their son—and the husband, David, lost his own wife around the same time. They’ve been absent for two years, and that separation has taken a toll on Will’s sanity. Before Will and new girlfriend Kira even arrive at David and Eden’s Laurel Canyon estate, a coyote throws itself in front of their car, forcing Will to put it out of its misery with a tire iron. That’s only a hint of the bloodshed to come; it’s going to be a long night.
Stepping across the threshold, Will is smacked with delirium and conjures ghastly images of past. But his hallucinatory homecoming is as equally peculiar as Eden’s equanimity, and the instability spreads when the hosts introduce a sexpot hippie houseguest (Lindsay Burdge, a knockout) and robotically hulking new pal Pruitt (John Carol Lynch in Zodiac mode) into the mix. Beset by raging grief and increasingly frenzied flashbacks, he’s a ticking time bomb. The estate’s narrow halls already ooze claustrophobia, exacerbated by David’s precautions against a series of home invasions that have blighted the canyon. By the time David and Eden reveal the source of their newfound serenity (which is too delicious to reveal here), the whole thing is primed to detonate.
But before the berserk third-act freakout, The Invitation is all slow-burn hypnotic allure. Punctuated by those over-clocked flashbacks, it’s a masterfully confident exercise in barely contained mania. If its investigation into grief fails to cohere, that’s only because there’s only so much room in the memory for images as striking as its final shot. The Invitation aims for the gut and, in the viscera that erupts, nails it.
The Invitation. Directed by Karyn Kusama. Written by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi. Starring Logan Marshall-Green, Tammy Blanchard, and John Carroll Lynch. Opens across Kansas City April 22nd.