A series of short, snappy pieces of Players, Scenes, Quotes, Shots, Locations, from films directed by women throughout September.
Karyn Kusama’s The Invitation is a very effective thriller that builds a remarkable level of tension over the course of its 99-minute running time, until it reaches boiling point and there’s no turning back for our main characters. Set during a mysterious reunion among old friends where something is obviously not right, this well-acted film, represents director Kusama’s strongest work in years.
Will (Logan Marshall-Green) and his partner Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi), winding their way through the Hollywood Hills one evening, headed to a gathering at the gated house of David (Michiel Huisman) and Eden (Tammy Blanchard), whom they haven’t seen in at least two years. Upon their arrival, they are greeted warmly if a touch awkwardly by their hosts, as well as by a group of old pals that initially suggests a superficial cross-section of upscale L.A. culture. At first, everything appears normal if not slightly tense and awkward for Will (who used to be with Eden and they had a child together who sadly passed away). However, this is not an ordinary dinner party and there’s a reason for the invitation.
The dinner scene is an example of Kusama’s ability to use sound, cinematography and lighting to create a chilling atmosphere. The camera slowly pans across the table, looking down at the surface so it captures the food on offer, and at first the viewer only sees the guests’ hands as they clink their glasses together in a toast. The camera continues to creep across the table towards Eden who is sat at the head of the table.
The angle now switches so there is a side on view of the table and the guests, but the camera remains moving, panning the length of the table. The camera is restless and unable to stop moving, perhaps representing Will’s inability to relax. Or, it could be that the camera is prowling the guests, like an animal hunting and ready to pounce at any second.
There are snippets of conversation, from ‘Cat videos’ to ‘work’, none of this is important and the overlapping sounds of dialogue, cutlery and people eating make for a disorienting collection of sounds. This is used to great effect, so the audience along with Will are confused and unable to concentrate, possibly leading to important details being missed.
The camera moves closer towards Will, and as the frame moves to a close-up of Will’s face the sound becomes muffled and the chilling score increases in volume. The other guests in the background become out of focus, for a brief second until they become the focus of the camera’s attention. Once again, the camera pans the guests sat at the table, the music is louder than ever and we can’t hear the sounds of the guest as they laugh, and talk to each other.
The camera focuses on Eden, who seems distracted and forcing her smile, then our attention is brought back to Will who is remembering a happier time. There is now a brief flashback, at a summer BBQ which Eden and Will were hosting back when they were a couple. The contrast of lighting is used to great effect here, with this scene being shot in glorious sunshine, compared to the dim candle light seen in the dinner party set in the present.
As Will recalls his son, the shot gets fuzzier and out of focus, this is a brilliant way of conveying how our memories fade even when we are trying our hardest to hold onto a memory of a loved one. It also shows Will’s trauma, and that he is struggling to hold onto the memory of his son because it’s too painful.
Will’s attention is now brought back to the present, and the atmosphere has changed, each sound is amplified from the sounds of chewing food to the clanking of cutlery. It’s almost unbearable to listen to. The footage is also slightly sped up too, making for a jarring contrast to the slow steadiness at the start of the scene.
What Kusama manages to do here, is maintain a level of tension and reveal valuable back story to our main character. The Invitation is a masterclass of psychological horror and reinforces the fact that Kuasma can take on any genre and deliver a unique and creative film.