At every party – dinner or otherwise – there has to be a party pooper… and this time, it’s me. While pretty much all of my /slash-friends liked “The Invitation”, which was chosen for this years opening night, I’m afraid that I couldn’t look past the fact that I knew where this was going 30 minutes in, and especially that of two paths suggested, they didn’t choose the one I hoped that they would follow.
Before we get to that, though (and thus, inevitably, into spoiler-territory), let’s first talk about the things that did work for me: While the characters didn’t always react in the most clever way (seriously, I would have gotten the fuck outta there long before the shit hit the fan), they were nevertheless well-sketched and believable. I especially liked the gay couple, but overall, each and every one of them had his/her own, unique personality, and the movie does a good job with introducing them. The acting also was spot-on. I especially enjoyed the intense performance by Logan Marshall-Green (who’s a dead ringer for Tom Hardy with that beard), but Michiel Huisman (aka everyone’s favorite Daario Naharis), Tammy Blanchard, Lindsay Burdge and John Carroll Lynch were equally great. It’s also incredibly well shot, and offers up a couple of nice images. Finally, Karyn Kusama definitely knows how to create tension. From the beginning, a sense of uneasiness befalls the viewer – just like it does Will, which means that she really manages to get us into his head – and subsequently, the feeling of dread and claustrophobia intensifies, before it culminates into flat-out terror. The last stretch of the movie is incredibly strong and gripping, with a couple of very tense moments – Karyn Kusama definitely knows how to create suspense, and I’d love to see what she could do when she gets her hands on a better script – but I’m afraid by that time, the movie had already lost me.
——————————— SPOILERS AHEAD ———————————
Now, granted, knowing – or at least very strongly suspecting – early on what is going to happen doesn’t have to ruin a movie. For example, seeing “Ich seh ich seh” (aka “Goodnight Mommy”) for a second time, obviously already knowing where it would ultimately lead, didn’t have any negative effect whatsoever. It still worked like a charm. Probably one of the reasons why that didn’t matter so much there is that it was only a reveal for us, the viewers, but not for the protagonists. The problem with it being the other way around, like in “The Invitation”, where I knew where this was going far sooner than any of the characters suspected anything, is that when the twist is as blatantly obvious as it was here – at least for me – you really start wondering why the fuck all those people at the dinner party (Will not withstanding) didn’t start to suspect something similar along the way. I mean, come on. You’re dealing with a fucking cult, the people who invited you also brought in some creepy dudes that you don’t know. They talk about pain being a choice, and finding a way to end it, and then you see the video of the dying woman who can’t wait to get reunited with her loved ones. And still, no one’s afraid that their friends-turned-cultists may ave similar plans? Gimme a break. And that’s just it: The problem is not that I saw it coming from a mile away, but that no one else did. Even Will only was slightly suspicious, but hadn’t figured it all out until he saw the second video. And that’s just were the asshole-part of myself kicks in and says: It’s your own damn fault for being so stupid, thank heavens for removing your idiocy from the gene pool, so don’t expect any sympathy from me.
But even that wasn’t my biggest gripe with the movie. Instead it was the fact that along the way, they suggested taking a different road: That Will is overly suspicious, bordering on paranoid, because of the fact that he’s returning to the house where he lost his son, something that troubles him deeply. Combine that with the fact that he feels that said death was his fault because he didn’t protect him, and you have the perfect setup for a character that now sees danger lurking everywhere – even it it’s not there. A revelation that I would have preferred for multiple reason: First, after the opening speech of the festival director, mentioning the fear of the foreign and unknown (which then gets boosted instrumentalized by political parties for their own gain), it was a little weird to see a movie that confirms the fear of its main protagonist. That just didn’t gel at all. Furthermore, I think that it would have been more surprising – especially since they tipped their hand so obviously early on – and also more original. This in a way goes back to some of my /slash reviews from last year, where I mentioned that when a movie offers up a supernatural explanation and a down-to-earth one – in 99 of 100 cases we get a definitive answer (which in this case wasn’t the problem), and in 98 of 99 cases, they go with the supernatural. Now if you drop the supernatural angle, you could simply break it down to “The character is right and the danger is real” or “the character is wrong/paranoid” – and again, the 98/99/100-rule would apply (meaning in 1% we never know for sure, and in another 1% the danger is only imaginary). Thus, I would have preferred to get a 1-in-100 instead of a 98-in-100 story.
Lastly, it’s also a simple matter of taste. In this particular case, I would have preferred it if Will would have been paranoid, since I would have found that more meaningful – given the fact that he’s still dealing with a great loss. Him not being able to let go, and as a result now being overprotective, seeing danger everywhere, and thus creating some sort of disaster – and through that even more pain, for himself and for others – …I don’t know, maybe it’s just me, but I would have found that awesome. Unfortunately, as soon as they offered up the Troy-revelation (2/3rds into the movie) it was clear that this was not the way they were going, and in my opinion, that’s a damn shame. Finally, there were a couple of other problems that I had with the movie, that further hurt it in my opinion. For example, I’m not quite sure what the sense/meaning of the coyote-scene at the beginning was. In my opinion, you would lose nothing if you’d simply take it out, and start directly at the house. Also, what’s with the flashback/vision/whatever that Will has after he sees Sadie for the first time, where she’s seemingly hurt and standing over a sink? At first I thought that she was a previous acquaintance of his, who now stalked his ex-wife, but obviously, that wasn’t it. What else could it mean, though? Or was it simply put in as a red herring, but without any logical reason for being there within the framework of the story? If someone can explain that to me, fire away in the comments (it didn’t have any real impact on my rating anyway; it’s more of an observation, but as point of criticism, it’s negligible). Despite all that, however, I was willing to give this one a 5/10, since it was really well shot and the finale was very strong. And then came the final shot. I mean, of course I knew that they had to follow up that weird scene with the pink lantern (“In blackest day, in darkest night, I’ll kill myself, and be alright.”?) with something, but… that revelation just didn’t work for me. I actually had to restrain myself from not laughing out loud, since I didn’t want to ruin this moment for everyone else. Seriously, that was just silly and ridiculous. So, overall, this was not the most promising start of this years /slash Filmfestival for me.