by Evan J Peterson
Join us at Naked City Brewery in Greenwood for SHRIEK: Women Horror Directors Fest! We’ll continue viewing and discussing a range of horror films directed by women; next up, Karyn Kusama’s jaw-dropping return to feature films: The Invitation.
Tickets available here.
Stats on The Invitation (2015)
Director: Karyn Kusama
Writers: Phil Hay, Matt Manfredi
Major actors: Marshall Evan Green, Emayatzy Corinealdi, Tammy Blanchard, Lindsay Burdge, Michiel Huisman
Nudity: Brief, only female
Sexual Assault: Nonconsensual kissing and advances
Body Count: No spoilers
Major Protagonists: Male and female
Villain: No spoilers
Does it pass the Bechdel-Wallace test? Nope.
The Invitation is a triumph. The film is unnerving from start to finish. It had me gritting my teeth and hugging the throw pillows on the couch. As a thriller, it’s up there with It Follows and House of the Devil, two of the few films that have spooked me in the last few years.
As a slow and quiet burn, the film is perfect. Just when we think we’ve discovered evidence that something is very wrong, it’s explained away. The horror payoff is delayed again and again, making the final explosion of activity all the more satisfying.
Karyn Kusama creeps me out of my skin with this film, her fourth feature, and her first film in seven years. After a fabulous debut with Girlfight, she had a critical disappointment (though I argue creative success) with the live action Aeon Flux, then directed the horror-comedy Jennifer’s Body. I confess that I’m not a big fan of Jennifer’s Body. Diablo Cody’s script, while charming and clever, is too charming for a horror film. The twee-cynical dialogue ruins the mood.
Consider The Invitation as unruining Kusama’s horror output. It’s pitch-perfect in tone, and Kusama looked to the thrillers of Polanski and Haneke for inspiration, as well as the second Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The cast is impressively diverse; while our protagonist Will (Marshall Evan Green) is indeed a straight white man, the supporting cast of his friends is racially diverse and includes an interracial gay couple. Most importantly, Will’s girlfriend Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi) is not only a woman of color, she’s arguably just as important a protagonist as Will. The film is certainly from Will’s perspective, but Kira is an essential character with her own arc.
One of the most unsettling things about the film is how coercion and consent come into play. Characters have been invited to a mysterious dinner party/reunion, but what they get is something much more. They’re shown a disturbing video by people who argue that it isn’t disturbing, it’s beautiful and freeing. Some characters are sexually menacing, playing a “game” that involves kissing without consent, and while the coercion is soft, it’s abundant. Much like the worst kind of rapist, characters bypass one another’s consent with a smile and say, no, this is okay. Don’t fight it. It’s all okay.
Kusama and her scriptwriters (Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi) waste very little dialogue. From the very beginning, Kira and Will discuss the backstory. What would take another film twenty minutes to lay out is done before the opening credits, all very naturally. Less than five minutes in, while on the way to a mysterious reunion at the home of Will’s ex-wife, Will and Kira hit a coyote with their car, and Will must kill it in mercy. We know what movie we’re in—immediately.
The mystery slowly resolves as Will, Kira, and their old friends discover why they’ve been invited to this house. It’s quite like a haunted house film, but dragging out the suspense as we wait for the ghost or monster to finally show up. Just wait. Enjoy the discomfort. I hope I don’t spoil anything when I say that I was surprised which characters survive the night.
Join us at Naked City Brewery for The Invitation, Sunday Oct. 16!
Then we’re back at Naked City Brewery for more women horror directors on Oct. 23 (Cyndi Sherman’s Office Killer) and 30th (Mary Harron’s American Psycho).
Evan J. Peterson (evanjpeterson.com) is a college professor, author, and journalist. He is a Clarion West alum, and he received his MFA from Florida State University. His writing has been featured in The Stranger, BoingBoing, Weird Tales, Queers Destroy Horror, and TheBody.com. His books include The Midnight Channel, Skin Job, and Ghosts in Gaslight, Monsters in Steam: Gay City 5. He lives in Seattle with his werewolf, Dorian Greyhound.