Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 44 minutes, Director – Jessica M. Thompson
After discovering distant family in England, New Yorker Evie (Nathalie Emmanuel) is invited to a wedding in a lavish mansion where it seems that more than just the family are staying.
There’s something intriguing about the traditional-leaning gothic nature of The Invitation. We see a young woman (Virág Bárány) running through dark, stone-like mansion halls fleeing from an unseen force. As her seeming attempts to escape become more frantic she eventually takes her own life in the house, bringing an end to the darkness and tension of the opening sequence.
Once we’re introduced to Nathalie Emmanuel’s young-New Yorker Evie thoughts certainly circle of ‘she’s next, but for what’ as she finds herself entering the very same mansion for a family wedding. While largely unaware of most of those around her, having only recently met a wealthy English cousin (Hugh Skinner) through a DNA-ancestry website; wanting to connect with a family after the passing of her mother, she certainly seems to be welcomed in with open arms. Tensions may slightly arise with the formally commanding butler (Sean Pertwee), but the opposite can be said for lord of the manor Walter (Thomas Doherty) who Evie gradually begins to fall in with in the short build up to the wedding.
For what is all largely build up to the third act the film remains fairly watchable as we see Emmanuel’s character interact with the various attendees of the wedding, including conflicting maids of honour Lucy (Alana Boden) and Viktoria (Stephanie Corneliussen). It’s these two figures who take her for what becomes a heated spa day, largely down to a series of questions and successive confrontations from Viktoria to new-face Evie. As the scene plays out there’s heavy emphasis on the various sounds of the treatments taking place. The scraping, scratching and filing of nails creates a tense atmosphere, lingering on the knowledge that something bad is bound to happen at some point in this process, drawing out for maximum response.
It’s perhaps the most successful horror sequence in the film, juxtaposing with the more conventional ‘there’s a creature lurking in the shadows’ element which appears every now and then. Pair that up with your standard ‘don’t go in the library, it’s been refurbished’ and the idea of maids going missing and being attacked – including when cleaning, you guessed it, the library and the film does sometimes feel drawn down and restricted by its conventions. The gothic tone doesn’t quite have as much room to breathe and therefore rarely comes through as it did in the opening scene. Yet, where the horror truly comes through is in the final half hour as the third act plays out and the big reveal arrives.
It’s a big reveal that may prove somewhat divisive. While for some it may raise the film and prove as an interesting direction for others it may break things and cause a slump to the proceedings. That is up until the point where after the scene containing the core reveal the film simply appears to give up. Ticking off all possible conventions and travelling down a line of predictable nonsense. With the more dramatic elements being the focus in the first two thirds there was at least a watchable nature throughout, with even some chuckles to be had in interactions – largely via video call and text – with Evie’s best friend Grace (Courtney Taylor). However, with horror the core focus, ramping everything up as if making up for lost time that wasn’t completely lost, things rapidly become bland and disengaging.
To some extent it feels like you’re watching a completely different film, perhaps part of the reason why things begin to get frustrating towards the end. The half hour plays out as a winding sequence of events each which just become more and more trying. There are attempts to pull you back, they begin to slightly work as they focus on Evie and her responses to the world and forces around her. However, predictability soon slips back in as the film resumes its course and over-abundance of horror aesthetics, focusing on those rather than playing for a proper horror effect. The film generally uninvites you from the proceedings as what was once a fairly watchable, gothic-tinted two-thirds descends into a predictable streak of horror aesthetics.
While the few horror elements in the first two thirds of The Invitation may be somewhat hit-or-miss, working best when leaning away from convention and more into the dark gothic, it’s substantially better than the predictable nonsense of the final half hour. Relying on aesthetics over anything else it loses all substance and engagement.