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Christopher Webster [Celluloid 04.06.16] thriller mystery

Imagine you went to a social gathering, a reunion of sorts where old friends and flames would reconnect after a few years of building separate lives away from one another. There would be a certain amount of social awkwardness, sure, but you'd think, 'Well, once the drinks start flowing, I'm sure we'll all find our groove again.' Except you're a recovering alcoholic, so you're not drinking, or partaking in any of the other substances being consumed high in the Hollywood Hills.

And so, after hours of drinking nothing but water, while everyone else is altering their states of mind, you start to feel a little dislocated from the tenor of the evening.

Now imagine someone you were once very close with - an ex or sibling - seemed completely, almost eerily, different than how you knew them years earlier. And the more the night progressed, the more this change in their personality (and how nobody else seems to notice or take your concerns seriously) started to bother you.

The social aspect of this situation would result in two things. 1) you would do nothing as to not ruin the evening for everyone and 2) your anxiety in isolation would lead others to believe you were paranoid. Essentially, the social manners inherent in an environment like this would make it impossible to act on your suspicions.

This is essentially the set-up of the The Invitation, and it's the subtle nod towards manners and how difficult it is to disrupt social mores that, for me, makes the film the ultimate paranoid thriller and an almost unbearably tense viewing experience.

The epitome of a "slow burn", The Invitation stars Prometheus' Logan Marshall-Green as Will - said recovering alcoholic and the ex-husband of the dinner party's host. The two of them parted ways after losing a child and have seemingly both dealt with the grief in different ways. And in a weird way they don't recognize each other. Only Will suspects there's something sinister at play.

Will expresses his concern about this to a few of the other guests who don't take it seriously and as the night progresses, Will's anxiety does take on a the tone of someone who might just be paranoid. And the more he disrupts the party, the worse he looks. It's agonizing to watch as Will's own actions seems to be the reason for his mounting distress.

Of course, I won't give away the film's ending, but suffice it to say that, whichever way you're leaning as the film proceeds, the ending is abrupt, gripping and totally satisfying.

Interestingly, the film is a 180 degree turn for it's creators: writers Matt Manfredi & Phil Hay, the duo behind huge studio films like Clash of the Titans, R.I.P.D. and Ride Along (arguably films not known for their subtlety) and director Karyn Kusama, a filmmaker I've liked, who's also from the studio world, having helmed projects like Jennifer's Body and Aeon Flux. Since Jennifer's Body, Kusama has been quiet and this is an interesting and disquieting return. I guess what I'm saying is, more of this please.

The Invitation is an intelligent thriller with a unique, Polanski-esque take on the genre and a great ensemble cast. It deals with heavy issues of grief and loss, while also sticking a whopper of a landing. Highly recommended.

The Invitation hist VOD and Digital this Friday, April 8, 2016

Recommended Release: Road Games

Follow Christopher Webster on Twitter.

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