The long wait to see Karyn Kusama back behind the camera of a feature film is finally over, following up Jennifer’s Body with her cutthroat, paranoid thriller The Invitation. Calculated, tense and unflinching in its brutality, it’s a terrific simmering style of storytelling that boils into one insanity-fueled finish. In it, while attending a dinner party at his former home, a man thinks his ex-wife and her new husband have sinister intentions for their guests.
Shot almost entirely within the walls of a house, The Invitation smartly uses its limited setting to pour on a sense of claustrophobia, using its main character—Will (Logan Marshall-Green)—to shine under a bright light of paranoid thrills. Wasting no time, Kusama sets her story in motion almost immediately, throwing Will and his girlfriend into a dinner party set up by his ex-wife and her new husband. With their relationship ending on such a painful note, Will sees this dinner party as an opportunity to make amends with his ex-wife and find peace with their past. But it’s within those good intensions that Will finds himself trapped in a nightmare.
Kusama’s thriller is wrapped tightly in an atmosphere of tension brought on by a constant sense of doubt felt by Will. Logan Marshall-Green is absolutely fantastic here, wearing so much emotion and pain on his face as he goes through the never-ending stress of his past relationship and the terrible way it all had to end. And it’s in that pain that The Invitation finds a true driving force behind Will, one that constantly keeps him on edge despite the seemingly good intentions of a dinner party.
It’s from there that the film starts to reveal important pieces to Will’s life—what happened between he and his ex-wife and why he carries so much pain around with him are answered relatively quickly, allowing us to get into his mind and understand his character even better. But once we understand what makes this character tick, that’s when The Invitation really starts to go to work. Along with Will and his girlfriend, the dinner party is made up of old friends—all of which were invited by his ex-wife as well—that he hasn’t seen in years. But despite being surrounded by so many familiar faces, Will never quite feels at ease. There’s just something off about his ex-wife, and especially her new husband. Are they brewing something sinister with their party or is Will a paranoid mess lost in the pain of his past?
And that’s the very question that the film uses as a hook. Kusama masterfully throws out this bait towards the audience that has us questioning whether or not Will is simply cracking up, or if he’s right in being weary of what his ex-wife and her new husband have brewing. I won’t go into any more detail than that because a lot of what makes The Invitation so powerful is the mystery of not knowing who or what to believe. Just know this—once you think you’ve figured it out, Kusama twists and turns the narrative in gut-punching fashion.
The Invitation is a brilliantly crafted boiler-pot thriller that uses its main character to push the pace of the narrative with paranoia and isolation. Despite surrounding Will by friendly faces, the film always feel dangerous and one step away from certain horror. Karyn Kusama is truly a gift behind the camera and she couldn’t have had a better return to the genre than this one. It’s a thrilling, paranoid-soaked slice of horror that has an unforgettably vicious, heart-pounding finale, and it’s one for the ages.