The Invitation (2022)
If the popularity of Jackass and Fail Army can tell us one thing, it’s that humans like to see someone fail terribly at something that could have been an achievement of mammoth proportions. The thing is, though, is that you only have to burn several seconds of your precious life with the set-up and pay-off of these skits, so it doesn’t feel like you’ve wasted time until you’ve slid down a YouTube hole into a void that started at 7pm but finished 30 minutes before you are supposed to get out of bed for work.
The problem with a film that does the same thing is that the promising set-up isn’t seen to fail until 90 minutes to 2 hours later, and that bit of time thievery can occasionally be unforgivable. At the risk of burying the lead, this film suffers from this very thing.
The Invitation is a 2022 film, directed by Australian director Jessica M. Thompson who received critical acclaim for her 2017 film The Light of the Moon, and was written by Blair Butler, who genre fans will know as the screenplay writer for the 2018 slasher-in-an-amusement-park film Hell Fest.
The Invitation tells of struggling artist Evie (Nathalie Emmanuel) who is given a ‘Find Yourself’ DNA kit after working as a caterer at one of their events. She resists the idea at first but eventually gives it a go as she feels disconnected from past relatives. Very soon she discovers a long-lost cousin, Oliver (Hugh Skinner), a quite overbearing member of English aristocracy to reveals to her that she is the part of a family-wide scandal as her great-grandmother had an affair with one of the footmen (a BLACK footman! )at her estate, and had a child who was kept hidden.
Oliver invites her to come to a wedding at New Carfax Abbey in England, offering an all-expenses paid trip to meet other members of the family. Upon arrival, she awkwardly meets Mr Fields (Sean Pertwee) who assumes, due to her skin colour, that she is one of the hired help for the wedding, a mistake soon rectified by the arrival of the charming and handsome Walter DeVille (Thomas Doherty), the Lord of the Manor, who appears to be quite taken with Evie.
Quickly, though, we, the viewers, find weird goings on at the manor: maids start disappearing and Evie feels strange presences in her room, and her feelings of alienation increase as she meets more and more of the wedding guests, all of whom are white, and some of whom seem to be deliberately making her stay even more uncomfortable.
As our story unfolds, we discover a terrible secret within the house that may effect the future of Evie and her entire family!
This film starts with a bang, and because I knew nothing about it before watching it, I found myself thinking we were entering a film similar to Jordan Peele’s Get Out, which alters slightly as you begin to realise that the problem within the family is not a medical one, but instead is more of a supernatural one.
Thompson’s direction is wonderful, and reminds me a little of the first Twilight film with its lush, moist exteriors and darkened and claustrophobic interiors. I thoroughly enjoyed the performances by the cast as well, with Emmanuel’s American character feeling SO out of place amongst the posh accents of the privileged aristocracy, which adds to the stranger-in-a-strange-land feel to the film.
The images and darkened tone of the film are brilliantly underlined by a spectacularly haunting score by Dara Taylor, whose work can be heard in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, and various pieces amongst The Boys series. The claustrophobic interiors are certainly made more cramped by the atmosphere it creates.
The dialogue of the script is wonderful too, and the performers are convincing in their roles, but that’s not to say the actual STORY is consistently good, and as I mentioned early, descends into somewhat of a car wreck.
When one considers modern horror through the eyes of Peele and his contemporaries, and the tales they tell, this feels more like something akin to Wes Craven’s much-maligned werewolf movie Cursed (one I actually enjoy). I expected to be wowed in a fashion like the afore-mentioned Get Out, or to be shocked like I was with the Wicker Man-esque Midsommar from writer director Ari Astor, but instead, this amazing set-up crashes horribly into an almost teen friendly result of a series of films that would be ripping off things like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake books, or worse, Wesley Snipes’ Blade films. The car crash at the end of the film is the hamfisted shift in gear from psychological thriller, to supernatural terror, to wannabe monster-hunting franchise.
Another criticism of the script is the dreadful bait-and-switch performed within its story. Some creatures of the night have set rules throughout literature and cinema, and when a story chooses to ignore those boundaries for the sake of hiding the identity of a well known trope, it’s deceitful and not very good writing. Again, this reveal is towards the end of the film when it loses the traction it got at the beginning so it is not unsurprising.
My comparison to a Fail Army video is not so much that I wanted enjoyment from seeing someone fail, but instead, from watching someone achieving a magnificent feat: it’s a shame it instead descends into silliness.
I do look forward to more films by the director as I thoroughly enjoyed the visuals, and the quality of the cast, but were tragically let down by a story made more disappointing by an incredibly promising start. I didn’t like it, and couldn’t see myself rewatching it, and I don’t think it’s worth wasting your time on due to those disappointing story points. If delicious cinematography is your thing though, give it a look with the sound turned down.
Disc: This film was reviewing using the Australian Bluray release, which contains the following extras.
First, there are two versions of the film available to watch. The first is the theatrical version, whilst the second is the extended cut. General rule of thumb is to always watch the longer version as in general, the first things to be cut for timing, or ratings, is violence and nudity, which is definitely the case here, even though both are still on the lighter end of both elements.
There are some outtakes and bloopers which are not particularly funny or clever, but the cast seem to enjoy themselves through them so bravo to them.
There are two deleted scenes and an alternate ending. As one would expect, the film does better without the extended scenes, and it CERTAINLY is better into it the awful Goosebumps-styled ending presented here. Interesting to see the film actually could have ended even worse than what it did.
It’s amusing that all of these extras have wedding related names which are relevant considering the story, but not as obvious now the films name was changed from the more blatant ‘The Bride’
The Wedding Party – Meet the Cast is a brief introduction to the cast and the director, and their perceptions of the characters in the film.
Til Death Do Us Part – production and Design looks at how the filmmakers made the decisions of how the film should look, and the dichotomy of the ‘upstairs’ and ‘downstairs’ of British aristocracy, or at least how it’s perceived in cinematic language. It is a beautiful film with some lovely design choices to lean into the bad stuff involved with the family, including a wonderful statue depicting something like the St George vanquishing the dragon artworks of Brent Notke or Adrian Jones, but the dragon clearly having the upper hand.
Lifting the Veil – Designing the Story investigates the idea of a more feminist view of a horror story and specifically the direct influences of a source novel I don’t wish to share as it is a spoiler, on this film. Some of the tributes are quite subtle whereas others are somewhat clumsy, and don’t work anywhere near as well, and announce where the story is going early, though you may, like me, hope it’s not going in that way.