The Invitation – Film Review

As a fan of the horror genre (a horror movie tragic, really), I always want horror films that get a cinematic release to be if not great, at least good. This hope I have for the horror genre is finally being taken seriously and it is what makes me so torn about The Invitation.

The film opens with a prologue involving a young woman hanging herself off the balcony of an English manor, a scene that desperately wants to open The Invitation on a shocking note but just ends up being clunky and reminding me of scenes similar and executed better in other movies.

Cut to Evelyn Jackson (Nathalie Emmanuel) or Evie for short, Evie is a ceramics artist who gets by financially as a waitress for events and functions for the New York upper class. One of these events has leftover goodie bags containing a DNA kit. As Evie has no surviving family that she is aware of, she jumps at the chance.

In record time, she is contacted by her distant cousin, Oliver Alexander (Hugh Skinner) and her family history is revealed that her great-grandmother Emmaline, had a secret child with a black footman. Evie’s desperate search for family leads her to accept Oliver’s offer of coming to England to attend a family wedding. It’s at the Carfax Abbey where she meets Lord of the Manor, the ridiculously handsome Walter De Ville (Thomas Doherty), the extended Alexander family and other old money weirdos.

So many of the problems of The Invitation come from its script. If you had list of bad or lazy storytelling elements, almost all of them could be ticked off. The biggest and most frustrating one is characters constantly pointing out how questionable the events happening in the story are. In almost every situation, Evie remarks “It’s just that they’re rich/English” to the point where her character is insufferable which is such a shame because Emmanuel is a beautiful and talented actress.

On paper, the plot for The Invitation could work, but the gothic romance horror thriller’s third act just slams the breaks on so hard, it gives you whiplash. It then tries to tie up all the loose ends so quickly, it just ends up being a big, knotted mess.

This is disappointing because all the aesthetics of The Invitation are stunning. The gorgeous set of Carfax Abbey makes Downton Abbey look like a trailer park. The downside is that the lighting and colour correction can make some scenes too dark to see anything. In other moments, the lighting is beautiful, making the decision to light some scenes so dark even more bizarre to the point that it’s hard to tell what negative film making decisions were from director Jessica Thompson, and what was done post-production as a last-minute change from the studio, if any.

The Invitation is a movie that suffers from being inconsistent. Some scenes are good, but some are very weak. While the performances, costuming, and sets design make The Invitation a very pretty film, it is still an incredibly messy one. The Invitation certainly isn’t bringing anything new to the genre, but if it’s just a film that you’re going to enjoy on the couch with popcorn, then I guess it’s just okay.

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