Karyn Kusama is best known for her debut film, Girlfight, which introduced Michelle Rodriguez as a teen tough training to be a boxer and, behind the camera, Kusama herself as a 27-year-old, John Sayles–approved indie wunderkind. She went on to direct the flaccid Aeon Flux and the Diablo Cody–penned horror-comedy Jennifer’s Body.
Her latest is a foray into isolation horror that follows a grieving former dad, Will (Logan Marshall-Green), to an ill-fated dinner party where the doors are locked and there’s no cellphone service. That get-together is at the remotely located house Will used to inhabit with his ex-wife, Eden (Tammy Blanchard) — who still lives there — and their young son, who does not. Kusama starts the night off rotten: On the way over, Will and his new girlfriend, Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi), strike a coyote with their car, forcing Will to finish it off with blunt force. From that we know that he’s decisive, but not whether we can trust his judgment about the gathering that follows.
Eden and her partner (Michiel Huisman) introduce increasingly disquieting activities, among them a home-video screening of a woman dying. Only Will seems to suspect something awful might be brewing — or is he letting his paranoia ruin the evening? Alongside Theodore Shapiro’s angsty score, The Invitation‘s greatest asset is Blanchard, who plays Eden with such expert melodramatic instincts that even her most menacing behaviors seem sympathetic.
The buildup stretches longer than it should, but the payoff comes with a satisfying bang. Will ultimately isn’t the one who puts this party out of its misery, but watching as the atmosphere of decorum explodes into carnage is a rare pleasure, both vindicating and horrifying.
Directed by Karyn Kusama
Opens April 8, IFC Center