Half the fun of horror films lies in their mystery.
What’s behind the locked door in the creepy house? What does the monster really look like? What’s actually going on behind the scenes?
Jessica M. Thompson’s The Invitation is full of mysteries like this, and all the ingredients to make a fun and creepy horror movie. The problem is, the film reveals its secrets too early.
The story starts in New York with a recently bereaved waitress, Evie (Nathalie Emmanuel) getting an unexpected message from a long lost (and very posh) second cousin, Oliver (Hugh Skinner), after she sends off one of those DNA kits. The message leads to a coffee which leads to an impromptu invite to a wedding at a country house in England. A large family reunion, and an opportunity to meet long-lost relatives. Evie takes up the invite, meets the charismatic Lord of the house, Walter (Thomas Doherty), and is plunged into a world of unpleasant family, racist staff, and a whole lot of creepy goings on.
Sound a little bit like Get Out? The Invitation borrows a lot from Jordan Peele’s masterpiece. Evie is subject to racist microaggressions from the moment she arrives, with the head butler (Sean Pertwee) rudely mistaking her for a member of staff, and bridesmaid Viktoria (Stephanie Corneliussen) reaching out touch her hair without permission. Like Get Out there’s also the sense that everyone is looking at her for a reason she doesn’t understand — the idea that something bigger is at play that everyone else is in on but her.
‘The Invitation’ borrows a lot from Jordan Peele’s masterpiece.
Blair Butler’s script does an effective job of building tension in this way, using odd interactions and strange, glimpsed happenings to hint at the larger mystery, while Thompson’s direction uses lingering staring shots to add to the creepy cultish vibes. The acting is also great, with Emmanuel striking the perfect balance between no-nonsense and unnerved, and Doherty mixing charm and charisma with something a little more unsettling.
Too good to be true?
In short, the film has a lot going for it. But the Get Out comparisons only stretch so far, and for all its strengths, The Invitation is ultimately undone by its predictability. There’s a prologue scene right at the beginning of the movie that pretty much gives the whole game away, and after that there’s an inevitability about where things are headed that never really goes away.
The Invitation still has its tense moments, and there are a couple of minor twists that try to keep us guessing. But in the end, it’s a bit like one of the DNA test kits that Evie uses at the beginning — intriguing on the surface, but ultimately not as interesting as you’re hoping it’ll be.
The Invitation is now showing in cinemas.