As Karyn Kusama’s The Invitation opens by gathering its protagonists for a dinner party in a lavish suburban home, its busy scene-setting feels pretty familiar. Subtly expositional – but undeniably well-crafted – dialogue and jarring awkwardness between protagonists makes for entertaining viewing and covers a lot of ground before the twenty minute mark, and as it settles into a brisk, easy pace, what begins as a darkly comic character drama ultimately takes on a more sinister guise entirely.
Not a line is out of place as The Invitation sets about lending some context to the gathering unfolding in front of us. Without really saying anything explicit, we know that Will (Logan Marshall-Green) is headed to the party with his new girlfriend Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi). Reuniting with friends after a two-year break, we also learn that the party is at Will’s former home, currently occupied by his ex-girlfriend Eden (Tammy Blanchard) and her new partner David (Games of Thrones‘ Michiel Huisman). The story of how they got to this point is teased out gradually, and before its unavoidable and impressive gear-shift The Invitation‘s unfailing ability to keep you engaged is mostly attributable to its dialogue, the atmosphere shifting from convivial to uncomfortable to unpleasant without breaking a sweat.
To expand further on the plot would be to harm the viewing experience: this is a film loaded with twists and revelations, best viewed with as little prior information as possible. As the tension escalates towards its comparatively chaotic final act, it becomes apparent that The Invitation sets itself apart from the pack with authentic performances (most notably from Marshall-Green, Blanchard and the ever-solid John Carroll Lynch) and a refreshing narrative and visual restraint. Moodily atmospheric and wickedly entertaining, even in April it can be confidently said that The Invitation is destined for year-end lists.