Yeah, they’re a little weird, but this is LA.” That’s one way to dismiss the uncomfortable vibe at a Hollywood Hills dinner party, but is it the correct one? Will (Logan Marshall-Green: Madame Bovary) hadn’t heard from his ex, Eden (Tammy Blanchard: Moneyball), in several years when he receives an out-of-the-blue invitation, so here he is tonight with his new girlfriend, Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi: Miles Ahead), at the house where he used to live. The place is almost literally haunted for him — he and Eden lost their young son here, which precipitated their breakup — but she seems to have found an unorthodox way to cope with her grief: Eden and her new partner, David (Michiel Huisman: The Age of Adaline), are espousing some rather cultlike ideas about dealing with all the bad in the world. But that’s just Los Angeles for ya, right? Or is something sinister actually in the offing?
Director Karen Kusama gets back to the small-scale, the personal, the indie of her first film, 2000’s Girlfight, with this chillingly crafted portrait of quiet menacing uncertainty: has Will picked up on a simmering danger that none of the other dinner guests have noticed, or is it all in his head, a manifestation of unresolved sorrow? Rarely have I seen a film replicate so balefully the precariousness that comes with not being able to trust one’s own instincts, of not knowing whether danger is an outside force or the misfiring of your brain (and, honestly, which is worse?). The Invitation is so beautifully nuanced as it seesaws with Will’s state of mind that it’s tough to come to terms with the fact that it was written by the same guys — Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi — who wrote the laughably incoherent Clash of the Titans reboot as well as Kusama’s second film, the deeply terrible cartoon adaptation Aeon Flux. Or maybe that’s an indication that Hollywood tends to destroy anything creative or original, and artists who care about their work should keep away.
With The Invitation, at least, Kusama, Hay, and Manfredi — and the terrific cast — have made a horror movie for grownups, with layered, subtle notions of terror that only become more intriguing upon multiple viewings, and with a perfectly eerie ending that will keep you awake at night.