Directed by Jessica M. Thompson — Screenplay by Blair Butler.
Not to be confused with 2016’s The Invitation, which is a far superior thriller from Karyn Kusama, Jessica M. Thompson’s The Invitation follows Evie (played by Nathalie Emmanuel), a waitress in New York City, who, after receiving the results of a DNA kit, is invited by distant British relatives — that she previously knew nothing about — to attend a wedding. Evie eventually agrees to attend the wedding, and, once she is there, she becomes charmed by the owner of the manor that she will be sleeping in. While she slowly, but surely, falls for the young lord (played by Thomas Doherty), strange things happen in the manor, and Evie starts to see foreboding visions. You shouldn’t know more about the film than that when you sit down to watch it in the theater. Unfortunately, all of its secrets have already been given away in the marketing.
The way a film is released can make or break a film. There are certain dos and certain don’ts, and this film’s release definitely made a couple those don’ts. This film, Jessica M. Thompson’s The Invitation, has the same title as a Karyn Kusama critical and cult thriller darling, and, even more frustratingly, it gives everything away in the trailer. Above I’ve tried to present the story the way the trailers ought to have presented it because if you know anything more than that going in, then you are set up for disappointment. This film’s reveals are all given away in the trailer in an attempt to entice a horror sub-genre fanbase to go to the theater to see a film that, on the whole, feels like a straight-to-streaming product, even though it was released in theaters.
I debated with myself whether or not to actually discuss all of its reveals in my review, and, while I won’t give everything away early in the review, I will eventually comment on the ‘twist,’ though not before making it very clear that we are going into spoilers later. What I feel is fair game to state is that so much of the film feels like a romance novel. Most of the film is concerned with our main character interacting with, or pining for, this surprisingly young British lord who looks at her in a certain way. These scenes are fine, even though it certainly feels like a C-list straight-to-streaming romance, but the film desperately wants to be more than that. To keep your attention — and string you along — the romance scenes are broken up a couple of times with sequences involving ‘the help’ at the manor being picked off one by one. These scenes show potential, but every horror element here is much too shrouded in darkness — or dimly lit — to make a positive impression. In general, so much of the film is over-reliant on frustrating jump-scares that sometimes defy character movement logic, and they are always paired with extremely loud noises. Sometimes there is no build-up whatsoever to these jump-scares, which just makes it all feel cheap. And when the film finally reveals its hand, some of the character turns are so drastic and unexplained that the film just falls flat.
I think it’s now time to discuss the film’s inspirations, and, in doing so, I will be discussing some spoilers. Though, if you’ve seen the trailers, then I won’t be revealing much. If you don’t want to know any more details, then jump to the next paragraph. Still there? Good. Well, I think this film has some undeniable key inspirations. There are a lot of things in here that feels ripped right out of Get Out or Ready or Not, both of which are far superior films. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t do anything interesting with these inspirations. The film feels frustratingly unoriginal, even when the vampiric twist is revealed for all to see. There isn’t anything new here. It also doesn’t help that when this vampiric connection is revealed, the way characters flaunt sharp teeth and freakishly sharp nails is undeniably comical. Suddenly, out of nowhere, the film becomes very campy, but it’s a jarring shift that leaves you thinking that they didn’t really know what they wanted to do with the film.
Not only did the studio hold the film back with the way the film is marketed and released (again, the trailer gives everything away — it’s absurd), but the film doesn’t work on its own either. While all members of the cast look the part, none of them leave a strong impression performance-wise. The film, as a whole, is predictable and its inspirations are much too obvious. To add to that, the horror sub-genre scenes are few and far between, too dark, sometimes feel cheap, and defy logic. I think it could’ve succeeded as a straight-to-streaming offering, but, as a horror-romance film released in theaters, it just isn’t worth the price of admission. It also doesn’t help that the film includes some of the worst final lines of dialogue that I think I’ve ever heard. I’m specifically talking about a pun that made me roll my eyes and facepalm. It’s the strongest emotion that the film left me with.
3 out of 10
– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.