Review: The Invitation – Chattanooga Film Festival 2016 – Film Dispenser

Film April 5, 2016 Scott Phillips
Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every Fall.

Chattanooga Film Festival

Read all of our coverage of CFF here

Your marriage was shattered by a tragedy. Divorce and new relationships follow. Your former spouse decides to invite  you and the “old gang” over for a dinner party. It’s a chance to reconcile and let wounds heal. Your ex seems at peace, serene even, while you continue to wrestle with the horrible events that altered your life forever.  Setting foot in your former home only puts your nerves more on edge. Your former spouse reveals that her new-found inner peace is the result of group sessions she attended in Mexico. She portrays it as some type of New Age therapy. Your mind can’t get past the word “cult”.

As the night wears on, you wonder why the doors are locked. Your former spouse and her new husband seem to be acting secretively. A couple of the guests are new acquaintances from your ex’s Mexico trip. Why are they here for a reunion of old, long-standing friends? Everyone thinks you’re paranoid, expecting the worst from your ex. You’re convinced you’re not over-reacting. Something is very, very wrong. But is it?

This is the set-up of The Invitation, the latest feature film from director Karyn Kusama (Girlfight, Jennifer’s Body), and it has been taking the festival scene by storm for good reason. The Invitation is taut and constructed deliberately, with precision. After the opening fifteen minutes, the events that follow can be read multiple ways. One moment the audience is convinced that something sinister is afoot; the next moment we feel sorry for the mental instability of our protagonist who’s been blinded by grief. The film impressively see-saws back and forth, building the tension with each successive scene.

The Invitation benefits from its lesser-known cast.  With no big-name marquee stars onboard, the film plays with the realism of a documentary. John Carroll Lynch (Zodiac, American Horror Story) is the only performer who is immediately recognizable, and his penchant for playing quiet, frightening men is used to full effect. Has he been cast against type as a red herring? Or is he a menacing presence at this dinner party? I’ll never tell. And you’ll be wondering until the final act unfolds.

“Hitchcockian” is a word that is frequently abused, and it means different things to different people. Sometimes it’s used to describe horror films (due perhaps to Psycho). To me, it refers to the pace and point-of-view of a film. Hitchcock was a master of doling out information to an audience at just the right pace and generating suspense by often giving the audience superior knowledge to the characters onscreen. As the film winds on, the tension grows, and each new piece of information requires the audience to reevaluate their personal theories about what has come before. If that’s an accurate definition of Hitchcockian, then The Invitation deserves that moniker.

There’s no definitive word on a digital or DVD release date for The Invitation. If you’re a true movie nerd (like me), jot down the title and grab it when the opportunity arises. Or better yet, hit a festival where it’s playing.  It’s one of the better thrillers of the last several years.

[Note:  Since this review was posted, it’s been announced that The Invitation will hit VOD platforms on April 8th.  Here’s hoping that’s correct.]

Scott Phillips

The Movie Isle

Scott Phillips holds a degree in print journalism from the University of Georgia and is currently a member of the Georgia Film Critics Association (GAFCA). In addition to his role as a correspondent for Timed Edition, Scott serves as the Executive Editor and Senior Writer for From 2013 through 2017, he reviewed films for Along with his duties as a critic, Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every fall.

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