Name a more iconic duo than myself and tragic movies about grief. I can’t get enough of digging deep into that world of how to handle grief and how to, perhaps, get to the other side of such loss. After watching 1BR recently, a cult-based film, I saw a lot of people saying, “The Invitation did it better.” So, naturally, I had to watch 2015’s The Invitation and yes, I do have to concur, The Invitation did do the cult film better and yes, it has a heaping helping of grief and tragedy.
The film is about Will (played by Logan Marshall-Green), who (for some reason) accepts an invitation to go to a reunion at his ex-girlfriend’s house with all of their friends. It’s the first time they’ve all seen each other in two years because Eden (played by Tammy Blanchard) and David (played by Michiel Huisman) disappeared to Mexico for those two years.
While Will has a new girlfriend, Kira (played by Emayatzy Corinealdi), he still has the grief of losing his and Eden’s five-year-old son to a baseball bat accident. Being at the house where Will and Eden lived together, and where their son died, is obviously messing with Will’s head. Marshall-Green does a masterful job throughout the film carrying the burden of grief and loss on his face. He also does a good stoic and questioning face.
In a little bit of foreshadowing, on the way to the house, Will hits a coyote and then has to put it out of its misery by clubbing it with a tire iron.
Through the first 75 minutes of the film, there are plenty of ways in which something feels … amiss. First, as Will points out, David locks the doors. Why is he locking the doors?
There’s also two people there the friends don’t know, who are friends of Eden’s and David’s: Pruitt (played by John Carroll Lynch) and Sadie (played by Lindsay Burdge). Both are weird and mysterious. I mean, the name Pruitt already screams red flag. Things ratchet up when Pruitt tells a story during a “game” about killing his wife in an “accident” but that he’s let go of that grief. He’s forgiven himself.
At that point, I would leave and it does, in fact, cause Claire (played by Marieh Delfino) to leave, which at first, made her seem like the wise one. And red flags pop up because David acts weird about her leaving. But he lets her leave with Pruitt following her. The implication is that Pruitt killed her. So yeah, she had the right idea, but unfortunately, she died.
Sadie is weird because she makes an overt sexual advance onto Will, which he denies. And Will also catches her making bizarre faces.
I was just talking in my previous review about how the most tension-filled, claustrophobic-feeling films are ones with heavy, rich and uncomfortable dialogue. This film fits that description because it presents the kind of dialogue and confrontations that typically don’t happen in social settings and it creates uncomfortable viewing.
Another red flag is the continued absence of Troy, the boyfriend of Choi (played by Karl Yune). I thought the “crap hitting the fan” moment happened when Will receives a voicemail from Troy, after finally getting a signal, that Troy arrived at Eden’s house early, not late, like everyone suspected. Boom, I’m thinking Troy’s been killed and Will is on to it.
But then Troy appears, alive and well. At that point, I also thought Will was second guessing himself, thinking perhaps his level of grief has overcome him. Everyone else is certainly thinking that. More on that in a second.
Of course, the biggest red flag, though, is when Eden and David show the group of friends a video from their time in Mexico of “The Invitation,” which they say isn’t a recruitment video, but it is, and that it isn’t a cult, but it is. The idea behind it is they promise to relieve your pain, to let go of it, but it seems like they do that by killing you. A woman dies in the video they show.
For some reason, Will, and later Claire, are the only ones truly put-off by any of this. Again, I probably wouldn’t have even come to this dinner party, but by the point of that video? I’m noping out, folks.
Finally, after nearly 75 or so minutes, the “crap hitting the fan” moment happens. They all gather around the dining room table to do another toast of wine. David has been “prepping” the group this entire time by serving wine and getting them acclimated. This time, though, the wine is laced with a drug to Jim Jones everyone, aka kill them.
Fortunately, Will wasn’t second guessing himself and he’s still suspicious, so he starts smashing all of the glasses and only Choi takes a drink. Sadie freaks out and attacks Will and Will throws her against furniture, cutting her head. Miguel (played by Jordi Vilasuso), who is a doctor or nurse, tries to help her. That’s when they see Choi has died with white stuff coming out of her mouth. As Miguel does CPR on her, David shoots him from behind, killing him.
Tommy is then attacked by Sadie and Pruitt takes the gun from David and kills Troy.
Ben, Will and Kira try to escape. Pruitt and David catch up with Ben and brutally stab and shoot him, as he begs for his life. His wife, Amanda, was the most fortunate one because she didn’t come to the dinner party.
Sadie tries to attack Will again, but Tommy (played by Mike Doyle) is able to kill her with a fire poker.
Pruitt catches up to Will and Kira and it’s Kira who is able to bash Pruitt’s brains in with a wine bottle. I have to admit, that was quite satisfying.
Eden, who seemed to be having second thoughts and gets a pep talk from David, shoots Will in the shoulder and then remorsefully shoots herself in the stomach.
David then advances up the stairs coming after Will and Kiera when Tommy attacks and kills him with a knife through the heart.
If that sounds like a lot, it’s because it was! It was a flurry of action that had simmer for the previous 75 minutes and that’s why it’s so effective and shocking.
At the end, much like 1BR (even though this came out before, but I saw that first), Will and Kiera see that other houses throughout California have the “red lantern” turned on, indicating that there are more cult members out there killing people. Much like 1BR, aside from that five second revelation and my criticisms of it (I can accept one crazy cult, not hundreds), I thought this film was extraordinary. I just didn’t need that revelation.
Again, the “crap hitting the fan” moment didn’t come until nearly the last 20 minutes of a near one hour, 50 minute movie. It was the best of slow burns and that slow burn was mostly dealing with grief and tragedy at Will and Eden losing their five-year-old. To Will, Eden saying she’s put that pain in her past is like abandoning their son and forgetting him. Will doesn’t know how to continue on without his son and with that grief. Of course, there is no “right” way to deal with grief, but there is a wrong way: Joining a cult.
And that’s the tragedy in this, that Eden, in her grief, was brainwashed into a cult. That’s scary and very realistic. She filled her hole and loss with a cult, promising community and a pain-free existence.
Speaking of, if it wasn’t clear, the coyote getting put out of its mercy is Eden and the rest of them being put out of their “misery,” as the cult would have you believe.
The real MVP of this movie is Kira by far. Yes, I like Will a lot because his BS-radar is on full blast and for good reason. But consider Kira. She’s following her boyfriend to a dinner party of his friends and his ex-wife at the ex-wife’s house. On top of that, she’s trying to help Will navigate this grief and at one point, Will says he loves her but she can’t help him. Ouch. That’s painful. And even after, and with, all of that in mind, she’s the one who clobbers Pruitt to death to save Will and even helps Will carry Eden outside because that was her dying request.
I’m so glad Kira survived.
Cults and brainwashing are scary, man. It can lead people to do things they normally wouldn’t have done up to and including death, of their own person or others.
Anyhow, if you’re looking for a tense, on the edge-of-your-seat film based almost entirely on dialogue until the last 20 minutes of crap-hitting-the-fan violence, I highly recommend this film. I’m impressed. I’m primarily impressed by how great of a meditation on grief, loss and tragedy it is and the scary pipeline between that and a brainwashing cult. Eek.