There’s just something naturally odd about a dinner party. Maybe it’s got something to do with the fact that they’re often a great setup for horror films, but they can also genuinely feel forced and uncomfortable. That feeling of receiving an invite to something that you don’t really want to attend is captured in Karyn Kusama’s The Invitation. A slow burn horror/thriller that portrays one of the most uncomfortable dinner parties in recent memories, it’s also an interesting look at grief and the loss of a child. It’s a genuinely suspenseful film that’s only hampered by an ending that fails to deliver on the promise of its first 80 minutes.

Will (Logan Marshall-Green) has received an invitation to attend a dinner party hosted by his ex-wife Eden (Tammy Blanchard) and her new husband David (Michiel Huisman). Will reluctantly agrees to attend, bringing his new girlfriend Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi) along with them. The pair of them arrive at Will’s former home and are reunited with a group of friends that they haven’t seen in years. Eden and David have also invited two individuals whom no one else knows: the free-spirited Sadie (Lindsay Burdge) and the mysterious Pruitt (John Carroll Lynch). Will doesn’t feel comfortable at the party and his suspicions that something sinister is happening are only elevated when David and Eden begin discussing the new religious movement that they joined in Mexico. Are Will’s suspicions valid or has the return to his ex-wife and old home caused his mind to slip?

Not much happens in the first two-thirds of The Invitation, but Kusama will keep viewers enraptured with the sheer amount of tension present at the dinner party. This is a truly unsettling film and the viewer can fully feel the paranoia that’s circling through Will’s head. The screenplay by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi does a fine job at dolling out the clues and placing our protagonist in uncomfortable and potentially dangerous situations. Why does David lock the front door? Why does Eden have a bottle of pills hidden in her dresser drawer? And why do the hosts interrupt the party to show their guests a disturbing video of a woman dying? Trying to decide if Eden and David have ulterior motives or if they’re simply the worst dinner party hosts in Los Angeles is what keeps the audience engaged in the proceedings.

But then the ending arrives in the form of a giant wet noodle. What started as a taut mystery where it feels like anything can happen ends in the most predictable way possible. Once Eden and David reveal what happened on their trip to Mexico, most discernible viewers will be able to easily predict the outcome of this party. Since the majority of the film was so effective, it seemed like the film’s ending would try to do something bold and different, but it wraps things up exactly how you would expect. The strong direction, eerie concept and ominous score made this seem like it would be a truly great genre film, but the ending demotes it to nothing more than a good one.

The Invitation receives 3/4

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