The Invitation, 2022.
Directed by Jessica M. Thompson.
Starring Nathalie Emmanuel, Thomas Doherty, Stephanie Corneliussen, Alana Boden, Hugh Skinner, Kata Sarbó, Scott Alexander Young, Virág Bárány, Sean Pertwee, Elizabeth Counsell, Courtney Taylor, Jeremy Wheeler, and Carol Ann Crawford.
After her mother’s death, Evie is approached by an unknown cousin who invites her to a lavish wedding in the English countryside. Soon, she realizes a gothic conspiracy is afoot and must fight for survival as she uncovers twisted secrets in her family’s history.
The Invitation is the latest misguided Get Out pale limitation with no rudimentary understanding of why that socially charged narrative was tense, provocative, and poignant. Directed by Jessica M. Thompson, the film centers on working-class woman Evie (Nathalie Emmanuel), who, while still grieving her father and the recent loss of her mother, decides to take a DNA test searching for more ancestors.
The test results bring up a distant cousin eager to meet up. Dismissing the justifiable concerns from her good friend Grace (Courtney Taylor in the designated comic relief Black friend communicating via technology role, which seems to be obligatory for these modern-day vacation getaways-from-hell horror stories), Evie is treated to a fancy dinner and invited to a high-status wedding over at his rich friends’ colossal, Gothic English countryside estate.
Given the creepy statues and paintings (not to mention the pitch-black photography), it’s evident that something is off here. To be fair, a prologue of a woman committing suicide trying to escape has already confirmed that. Nevertheless, Evie falls head over heels for the mansion owner, Walter (Thomas Doherty, who is at least trying to make the most of this material that has him wearing multiple personality masks). Unlike the cruel butler, Walter treats the staff with human dignity and respect, is self-deprecating, aware of his privilege, and not above offering an apology when he makes a mistake. He is also hot, which has Evie further surrendering to his charms (with influence from Grace).
It’s not that The Invitation spends far too much time on this romantic angle that drains it of any life force, but rather how boring and suspense-free it’s executed. A twist on the horizon is all well and good, but if it’s going to be this obvious and come so late in the narrative, there needs to be some sharp social commentary alongside funhouse thrills. The Invitation unequivocally fails to find anything engaging in the falling for one another honeymoon phase. The horror aspect is certainly more entertaining but also unbelievably cheesy for a story that desperately wants to make a memorable class warfare statement.
It should also be said that the below-the-line team has done solid work, crafting exquisitely colorful dresses, an eerie setting, and the occasional appealing visual. The rest of this invitation should be discarded in the trash. Bafflingly, these filmmakers have tried to set up a sequel for The Invitation, and while this movie is nowhere near the disaster some films not screened for critics typically turn out to be, I would rather donate blood than attend a successor. Rescind the invitation.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at [email protected]