10/20/2018 – Karyn Kusama: The Invitation (2015)
Directed by Karyn Kusama
We are only advancing a year since our last female directed horror film and yet we still have a number of efforts to highlight. Positive reviews were a common theme this year for many of the films. The dramatic found footage film The Midnight Swim from Sarah Adina Smith, the French horror-thriller Evolution from Lucile Hadžihalilović, and the Polish musical The Lure (which we also looked at last time) by Agnieszka Smoczyńska all received positive attention. Women also made contributions to the anthology films Southbound and Tales from Halloween with the former having the segment “Siren” directed by Roxanne Benjamin and written by her and Susan Burke while the latter featured “Grim Grinning Ghost” which was written and directed by Axelle Carolyn. Granted, not all the films were well received as this was also the year that gave us Tara Subkoff’s laughably named #Horror.
Karyn Kusama was born in Missouri and would go on to receive her bachelor’s in Film & TV from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts in 1990 where she would direct the short Sleeping Beauties. After graduating, she would go to work as a documentary film editor and later as an assistant to director John Sayles. Her first film, and to date only written screenplay, would be one the great Michelle Rodriguez starring boxing drama Girlfight. The film put her on the map despite its box office failure though it took five years before her next film would come out. Sadly, that film was the heavily recut disaster Æon Flux. The sci-fi action film adaptation starring Charlize Theron failed with critics and audiences in what could have been her big budget break.
Jennifer’s Body would be her debut horror title, working from a Diablo Cody script with all the quippy post-Juno dialogue that you’d expect from it, but the movie was a disappointment all around. The script was hardly Cody’s best work and the cast (including Megan Fox and Amanda Seyfried) wasn’t exactly strong, but there wasn’t much positive to speak of with the film. With three box office failures (or in the case of her last, at the very least, a major disappointment) and two straight critical failures, it did not seem like her career had much of a future. It took six years for today’s film to come out and the critical success to resuscitate her career. Since then, she has contributed a segment to the all-female directed anthology XX and directed this year’s crime thriller Destroyer.
The Invitation centers around Will (Logan Marshall-Green of Upgrade) who along with his girlfriend Kira is heading to the home of his ex-wife for a party. David (played by Michael Huisman who is now busy on The Haunting of Hill House) and Eden (Will’s ex-wife) have invited a bunch of their old friends for the first time in a couple years to this get together on some overly fancy stationery. Will and Eden’s marriage fell apart after the death of their son with Eden losing her mind at the end of their relationship and having tried to kill herself. Since then, she has become a New Age-y type and married David who is very obviously well off by the way he flashes his multi-million-dollar wines while Will is the type to have had a shared failed business with another of the visitors.
“The Invitation” is a New Age group that David, Eden, and two of their friends joined in Mexico focused on working through pain. Like all such groups, it certainly displays cult like tendencies with some unsettling characteristics displayed including when Eden shows off a video of a woman from the group dying and game of essentially truth or dare where people express their true desires. John Carroll Lynch’s description of accidentally killing his wife especially is chilling not by telling it coldly, but in the way tells it with emotion and yet seems perfectly alright with his actions.
The film often goes scoreless and is all the more unsettling for it but when the score kicks in it has a simple discordant sound. Marshall-Green plays Will as clearly still struggling with the loss and it’s painful to watch him as that pain, rage, and guilt boils just under the surface for him. It makes his paranoia all the more effective as no matter how much things feel off and as he’s treated as crazy for noticing it and chastised for his reluctance to engage, it is still clear that he’s not ready to be here and that he’s still shaken by this. Being in his old house brings back so many memories and despite the nutso New Age-y cult being super suspicious, it’s clear Eden needed something and may be in a better place.
The film befitting a modern indie horror film has a very slow build, but it still manages to make itself tense and uncomfortable just from the simple human interactions. Its dramatic component is very strong as it focuses on the power of grief and loss as well as what people will do to try to move on. The film manages to dodge a number of my biggest complaints with these type of films by actually having the alternate explanations seem reasonable instead of contrived SPOILERS1, even if these people seem way too accepting of the dumb party games and the choice to show that video so early in the movie seems odd. The film is Kusama’s best since at least her debut and a well-crafted psychological thriller.
Next up: We head to the Philippines to view Quark Henares and Jerry Lopez Sineneng’s Wag Kang Lilingon