Cross the tendencies of Jane Austen with those of Bram Stoker, and you have the surprisingly frightening and fun new gothic-horror picture “The Invitation.”
The movie caught me off guard. My expectations were low going into the theater. Late August through September is often a studio dumping ground for hard-to-market movies. Going into the theater, my greatest hope was not to fall asleep halfway through the movie.
I shouldn’t have worried. “The Invitation” was one of the most surprising and fun trips to the theater for me this summer. Don’t get me wrong. The movie directed by Jessica M Thompson from a script by her and Blair Butler revolves around an oft-told B-movie plot; however, the film’s execution and production values are A-list in my book.
Thompson and her cinematographer Autumn Eakin collaborate to create a beautifully staged and shot film that offers what appears to be A-list production values despite the film’s pulpy fare. The movie is exquisitely crafted in its darkness, and is sumptuous to enjoy despite its foreboding sense of doom, set up in the opening scene of the film.
Warning: Spoilers section
Unfortunately the trailer gave away the movie’s big reveal. The story opens as a romance but is actually an under-cover vampire flick.
Even without the giveaway, astute moviegoers would have have quickly picked up the vampiric scent as the movie begins to drop a ton of references to Stoker’s 1897 novel “Dracula” and its subsequent film adaptations midway into the first act of the movie. Admittedly, I’m a sucker for a solid vampire movie, and “The Invitation” fits the bill. Other’s who don’t share my taste for classical vampires might not be as entertained as I was.
Nathalie Emmanuel plays the fetching and likable heroine Evie whose pluck and plight almost instantly put the audience on her side. She is young, talented, and alone after the passing of her mother. Her father died when she was 14. Desperately seeking a family connection, she consults an online genealogy website that connects her to a family in England. Almost instantly a cousin connects with her, and while visiting her in New York, he invites her to attend a family wedding in England.
Certainly, the situation seems catfishy to her, but she is interested enough not to turn down an all-expenses paid trip to England to reconnect with family. Upon arriving at her host Walter’s (Thomas Doherty) estate, New Carfax Abbey — Dracula fans will get the reference — things get weird pretty quick.
Evie learns she is the lone female left in her family that’s populated by a lot of stuffy British male cousins. She thinks nothing of it, but the fact comes into play later.
However, weird things begin to happen to Evie in and around the mansion, but the charming yet enigmatic Walt allays her fears and comforts her one night. Before she knows it the two are in a relationship. After a night together, Walt seemingly asks Evie to marry him as a joke, and she indulges the request by jokingly accepting.
Walt isn’t kidding, though. He plans to turn Evie toothy like him and add her to his collection of vampire brides — Viktoria (Stephanie Corneliussen) and Lucy (Alana Boden). With the four families united in unholy matrimony, the vampire clan’s power will once again be complete.
All Walt and his two other brides have to do is co-mingle their blood with Evie’s. Things look dark for Evie in The Invitation
I’ll reveal no more, but the climax is action packed. The atmospheric film is no masterpiece, but if you enjoy gothic horror, you’ll likely appreciate it on some level. For fans of Dracula and vampires in general, the movie is filled with tidbits that will enhance your enjoyment of the movie but not hinder the film’s plot or pace. I probably will watch the movie again when it’s released to a streaming channel just to catch any Easter eggs I may have missed.
Emmanuel is the type of hero everyone will enjoy rooting for even if she is as gullible as most horror queens have to be. Doherty gives a strong hot-and-cold predatory performance that is both charming and dangerous. Corneliussen and Boden have a great time chewing scenery in their supporting bridal roles, and Sean Pertwee is appropriately creepy as Mr. Fields, Walt’s right hand man.
This would have been a fun film for the Halloween season. It will likely be playing on a streaming network in time for the October this year.
(PG-13) 1 hr. 44 min.
10 Hidden Details You Missed From The Invitation
This list will cover 10 of the most subtle and interesting examples that likely escaped viewers during the emotional, suspenseful rollercoaster that is The Invitation.
10 David’s Secret Conversation At The Door
In this scene of the invitation, it’s established pretty early that there’s something “off” about this seemingly nice dinner party. A number of hints are subtly dropped here and there – from the odd behavior of some of the characters to the unsettling video of Dr. Joseph. One particularly interesting example, however, takes place roughly midway through the film, where David is seen conversing with an unknown guest at the door.
Who could this mystery person be? Perhaps a neighbor looking to settle on a time regarding the “witching hour” of this nefarious cult?
9 Will’s Proclamation That He’s “Not Prepared To Be Here”
Will and David take part in a rather awkward conversation during the second act of the film. David confronts him in being oddly suspicious of their “hospitality,” and his seemingly baseless lack of trust in them. Will’s response that perhaps he “wasn’t prepared to be here tonight,” is a great one; partly because of the multiple layers of meaning behind it.
On the surface, he’s referring to reliving the trauma of his deceased son at his old property.
But on a deeper level, it also seems to be foreshadowing and symbolizing the “death pact” during the lavish dinner a bit later in the film. It’s almost as if on a subconscious level, Will is proclaiming that he’s still not ready to die; he refuses to give up.
8 The Faint Sounds Of Screaming During The Shocking Final Scene
The jaw-dropping revelation after the final skirmish really leaves an impression and serves as a powerful payoff following the slow buildup. The surviving “party” guests look to the LA skyline in awe as the red lantern (a symbol of Joseph’s cult) is shining at dozens of other properties.
But if one listens closely, the dark, chaotic fallout can be heard of this death cult springing up everywhere, with sirens blaring and people screaming.
7 A Reenactment Of Pruitt’s Murder In The Final Confrontation
Pruitt – the rather creepy friend of David and Eden – tells a disturbing story about how he had accidentally killed his wife following a domestic dispute. He had lost control and shoved her, causing her to fall and hit her head on a table with lethal force.
In a subtle callback to this chilling tale, Sadie gets knocked out in a similar fashion during this violent showdown between the 4 cultists and the unwilling party guests. It’s a clever inclusion that illustrates the harshness of Pruitt’s action and adds emotional weight to his story.
6 David’s Behavior After Lighting The Lantern
Near the end of the film, David is seen going outside to light a red lantern. Viewers are, at this point, kept in the dark as to what this represents (if anything). Though some more hints are dropped that this person is up to no good thanks to his mannerisms that follow.
He stares intently out in the distance, seemingly looking for something. What is it he seeks? This soon “comes to light” following the attempted murder-suicide by the cult members. It’s revealed that he’s looking for signals from other participants throughout the city.
5 Sadie’s Strange Faces In The Mirror
Sadie is an… “interesting” character to say the least. If there’s any major red flag that something’s awry with this dinner party, she’s the embodiment of it. Along with being seen half-naked by Will seemingly without caring, she’s also shown making some bizarre, creepy faces in a mirror.
This would seem to be yet another bit of foreshadowing, and a subtle nudge to the audience that she is getting ready to die. Could this be Sadie essentially practicing her “death look?”
4 The Religious Symbolism Throughout
One interesting aspect of The Invitation is its seemingly abundant use of religious symbolism. This isn’t just in reference to Dr. Joseph’s group, but in terms of the broader themes and visuals.
The movie seems to particularly sprinkle in Christian symbolism, especially with it’s “Last Supper” parallels. There are also names that hold significance with the religion which are used, like “Eden” and “Joseph.” The liberal use of wine and bread throughout their dinner and beforehand also has meaning to Catholicism, in particular.
3 The Symbolism Of The Staircase
These religious parallels also extend to the unique staircase in the house, which is honed in on quite a bit. The guests are all shown filing up the staircase to eat their lavish meal – which for many, will sadly be their last. This is meant to represent a sort of ascendency to heaven or the afterlife.
There’s also a scene in which David is speaking to his guests below from atop this staircase. This very likely is meant to signify that he’s speaking to them from a “higher plane” and that in his mind at least, he has already ascended.
2 The Slow Buildup To The Poison Wine
The Invitation uses wine as a prominent element and a key plot device of sorts. Not only does it add to the religious symbolism, but it’s also meant to foreshadow and build-up to the fateful dinner, where the guests are about to consume a poisonous wine.
By serving their guests ample wine throughout the evening, David and Eden are essentially “setting them up” by dulling their senses and normalizing these actions. Thus, by the end of the film, nobody (other than Will) questions the deadly glass of this drink – even with its unique container and appearance.
1 The Foreshadowing And Symbolism Of The Coyote
One of the most significant easter eggs in the movie comes in the opening scene. On the way to the party, Will hits a coyote on the street with his car, critically wounding the animal. He’s then forced to take action and kill it, essentially “putting it out of its misery,” as David later claims.
This is important, as it’s meant to represent the way the 4 cultists are currently feeling. They’re in deep pain and they wish to be free of it. It also foreshadows Will’s emotional killing of his ex-wife Eden at her request at the film’s end.