There’s a lot of mystery surrounding The Invitation and it starts right with its title. Why name something after another horror movie that was already so well received and also still very recent? It clearly must mean they have something special that’s really deserving of the name right? Well, I’m not so sure about that. Oh and if you don’t want to know anything about this movie, then you better be staying away from ALL marketing materials. Because even that trailer above spoils the crap out of this film. But if you’re like me and stayed away from all of that, what is this film about?
The Invitation offers a blend of twisted romance, a sense of longing for the feeling of belonging that we’ve all felt at one time or another, and supernatural scares, all wrapped up in the fanged cloak of vampiric lore. It’s not easy to reinvent a subgenre that’s become close to ubiquitous, but that was part of the challenge for Thompson.
The Invitation is the latest misguided Get Out pale limitation with no rudimentary understanding of why that socially charged narrative was tense, provocative, and poignant. Directed by Jessica M. Thompson (co-writing alongside Blair Butler), the film centers on working-class woman Evie (Nathalie Emmanuel), who, while still grieving her father and the recent loss of her mother, decides to take a DNA test searching for more ancestors.
The test results bring up a distant cousin eager to meet up. Dismissing the justifiable concerns from her good friend Grace (Courtney Taylor in the designated comic relief Black friend communicating via technology role, which seems to be obligatory for these modern-day vacation getaways-from-hell horror stories), Evie is treated to a fancy dinner and invited to a high-status wedding over at his rich friends’ colossal, Gothic English countryside estate.
Given the creepy statues and paintings (not to mention the pitch-black photography), it’s evident that something is off here. To be fair, a prologue of a woman committing suicide trying to escape has already confirmed that. Nevertheless, Evie falls head over heels for the mansion owner, Walter (Thomas Doherty, who is at least trying to make the most of this material that has him wearing multiple personality masks). Unlike the cruel butler, Walter treats the staff with human dignity and respect, is self-deprecating, aware of his privilege, and not above offering an apology when he makes a mistake. He is also hot, which has Evie further surrendering to his charms (with influence from Grace).
It’s not that The Invitation spends far too much time on this romantic angle that drains it of any life force, but rather how boring and suspense-free it’s executed. A twist on the horizon is all well and good, but if it’s going to be this obvious and come so late in the narrative, there needs to be some sharp social commentary alongside funhouse thrills. The Invitation unequivocally fails to find anything engaging in the falling for one another honeymoon phase. The horror aspect is certainly more entertaining but also unbelievably cheesy for a story that desperately wants to make a memorable class warfare statement.