31 Days of Halloween — Day 22: The Invitation (2016) — by Dr. Shock

hmp-invitationEditor’s note: Dave “Dr. Shock” Becker is a host on Horror Movie Podcast and the Land of the Creeps horror podcast. He is also the mastermind behind DVDInfatuation.com, a movie review blog where he is watching and posting one review every day until he reaches at least 2,500 movie reviews. Follow Doc on Twitter: @DVDinfatuation.

In the pre-title sequence of director Karyn Kusama’s 2015 horror film, “The Invitation,” Will (Logan Marshall-Green) and his girlfriend Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi) are on their way to a dinner party when they accidentally hit a coyote, which darted in front of their car without warning. Though badly injured, the coyote is not dead, so Will decides to put the poor thing out of its misery by hitting it on the head with a tire iron. By the very manner in which it’s presented, we know this accident is no random event: whether directly or simply thematically, this scene will prove important later on, and like everything else that occurs during this extraordinarily engaging movie, it will take some time for us to realize its significance.

The dinner party is being hosted by Will’s ex-wife Eden (Tammy Blanchard) and her new husband David (Michiel Huisman). It has been two years since Will last saw Eden or visited the house they once shared, and when he and Kira finally arrive, Will is surprised to learn that six old friends he hasn’t seen in a long time, namely Miguel (Jordi Vilasuso), Tommy (Mike Doyle), Ben (Jar Larson), Choi (Karl Yune), Gina (Michelle Krusiec) and Claire (Marieh Delfino), have also been invited. Though glad to be reunited with his former pals, Will can’t shake the feeling that there’s something unusual about this party, a hunch that only gets stronger when Sadie (Lindsay Burdge), and Pruitt (John Carroll Lynch), whom he had never met before, also turn up.

Still, despite the tragedy that ripped their marriage apart (from which Will himself has not yet fully recovered), Eden appears to be very happy, and tells of how she and David, during a recent trip to Mexico, joined a “group” that changed their lives for the better. This organization (some call it a cult), headed up by a man named Dr. Joseph (Toby Huss), supposedly teaches people how to get past their pain and suffering. Sadie and Pruitt are also members, and at first the party seems to be some sort of recruiting session, designed to convince Will and the others to join as well. But as the evening wears on, Will suspects there’s something much more dangerous at play, and if he and Kira don’t leave soon, they may never get a chance to walk away again.

Thanks in large part to the fine performances delivered by its cast, every character in “The Invitation” feels 100% genuine, and we enjoy the time we spend with them. Yet it’s the meticulous manner in which director Kusama peels away the various layers of this emotionally-charged story that truly impressed me. With each passing scene, we learn a little more about these characters, including the heartbreaking event that tore Will and Eden apart, and what it was that caused Eden to go searching for a way to end her pain.

To reveal more would be unforgivable; “The Invitation” is such an expertly crafted mystery that it earns our patience, and I was perfectly happy to let it play out at its own pace. Even in those scenes that are dialogue heavy, every moment in “The Invitation” feels important. It is not often you can say that about a horror movie or, indeed, any film in general.

But then, “The Invitation” isn’t your average fright fest, and when all of its mysteries have been revealed, you’ll be damn glad you sat through it.

— Dr. Shock

Don’t miss Jay of the Dead and Wolfman Josh’s podcast review of The Invitation on Horror Movie Podcsat Episode 85.

Links for Dr. Shock:
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Dr. Shock also appears on this horror podcast: Land of the Creeps

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5 thoughts on “31 Days of Halloween — Day 22: The Invitation (2016) — by Dr. Shock

  1. Dave,
    I couldn’t agree more. Wolfman Josh and I loved this movie, too. It’s exceptional. I think about it all the time (still), and I saw it back in March… In fact, I was considering writing an in-depth review of it here, exploring the themes a little further, if I had more time in the midst all this October posting… But Josh and I reviewed it on the podcast back in Ep. 085: https://horrormoviepodcast.com/horror-movie-podcast-ep-085-dracula-1931-vs-bram-stokers-dracula-1992-and-the-invitation-2016/

    Great review, Dave!
    Jay of the Dead

  2. Day 22 – Misc Horror TV Shows (2016)

    Due to the fact that seemingly every other horror movie made in the last thirty years now has a television show based on the original story or even one in development, I decided to take a day and casually look at four of the newest shows.

    The Exorcist

    Out of the four debut episodes I’m looking at, this is the one I had the most concerns about. After all, this is the series that’s based on one of the most well known and greatest horror movies ever created. If that wasn’t tough enough, the follow ups to the Exorcist has been a gigantic struggle. The Exorcist 2 is THE example of a horror sequel that failed massively. It’s almost worth watching just to see what a disaster it was. The Exorcist 3 is actually good, but it’s always been one of those films that has had problems in getting the attention that it’s deserved. The Exorcist Prequel was a disaster behind the scenes thanks to production and the actual theatrical release failed to bring in the money. So if any of these four shows were going to be duds, it’d seem likely that it’d be this one.

    In this first episode, three stories unfold and by the end of the episode, they’re loosely tied together. In the first story, Father Marcus is down in Mexico, trying to perform a difficult exorcism for a child while the church does not seem to be fully backing him. In America, the Rance family is in turmoil as the father is dealing with some sort of condition, one of the daughters is coping in the aftermath of a car accident that saw the death of a friend, and the poor mother is beginning to suspect something is going on in her home. Finally, the priest at the Rance’s family, Father Tomas, is struggling to keep his passion for his career thanks to an apparent desire to be with a “Friend” and the never ending silly confessions that he must listen to from his churchgoers. These three stories comes together as Angela Rance asks Father Tomas to talk to her daughter while Tomas also begins having dreams of Father Marcus’ failed exorcism in Mexico.

    I found myself pleasantly surprised by this first episode. The writers set up a lot of future sub plots for future episodes. For example, Father Marcus had a run in with Father Bennett in Mexico and nothing ended up happening there. Chances are, Father Marcus is going to find himself in some trouble soon. There were a few good creep scenes and scares. A couple of which involves animals such as a crow and a rat. There’s a couple of nice nods to the original Exorcist including a website article referring to the original incident in Georgetown and we saw a repeat of one of the more memorable moments from the original Exorcist, only with far more realistic ramifications.

    What stands out the most was the ending as the big twist is revealed – the Rance daughter that is possessed by a demon is the seemingly normal Casey, not the depressed Kat. I only suspected this twist right before Father Tomas was going to climb up into the attic, realizing that the demon possession has been really straightforward…almost too straightforward. Still, despite predicting the twist, I still loved it. For a character that appeared to be irrelevant, it gave great purpose to Casey, while not hurting the Kat character because she still has her own stuff going on.

    Without seeing any other episodes yet, I’m expecting some good things. Father Marcus is a likable guy and I’m looking forward to seeing just how crazy things will get with Casey’s hint that there’s more demons around. I am a little cautious in that I hope that we don’t see some mass demon possessions taking over the city. A handful of demons will be fine, but anything more seems like overkill.

    Wolf Creek

    I originally saw the first Wolf Creek in the theater shortly after it premiered in the US. I loved it. At that time, the grittiness of the torture porn sub genre hadn’t been cemented yet, so Wolf Creek felt fresh and I loved how brutal it could be at points. John Jarratt did such a fantastic job as the funny, yet terrifying Mick Taylor was the highlight of the film to the point where he has to be one of the more memorable horror villains since 2000. I was also a big fan of the fact that they switched things up with all of the women dying and the sole survivor being a man. Not only did I not expect that, but the one who I initially pegged as the final girl (Liz) ended up dying first. As for the sequel, I enjoyed it, but it clearly wasn’t as good as the original. The change of tone fit Mick Taylor well, but it didn’t exactly make me care about the potential victims. I do believe Wolf Creek 2 gets a little too much hate though.

    The TV mini-series kicks off with an American family, the Thorogoods, vacationing in the Outback to help their track star daughter, Eve, get over her vague problems with prescription abuse. It’s while relaxing at a billabong that the family first meets Mick Taylor after he saved the son from a crocodile attack. Within hours though, Taylor has stabbed the parents and shot both of the kids. Unbeknownst to Taylor, Eve has survived her bullet wound and is eventually found and saved by some fishermen. With Taylor celebrating yet another series of killings, Eve is desperate to convince the authorities that a man in a blue truck is responsible for her family’s death. By the end of the episode, Eve vows to find Taylor and to make him pay.

    The first ten minutes of this was pretty crazy. When Mick meets the Thorogood family, it was a safe assumption to make that he’d eventually kill them, but all of that happens within the first ten minutes. The stabbing of the father happened so quickly that I was expecting it to be revealed to be a dream sequence or something. This scene of the family being killed is both my favorite and least favorite part of the first episode. On one hand, I loved how unexpected it all was, which made it difficult to be able to predict the rest of the episode and even series. After all, they actually did what so rarely happens in horror – they killed a kid! The problem? CGI blood. CGI blood may be my biggest annoyance with horror in the 2000’s. It feels so unnecessary to add in some blood post-production when all they’d have to do is rig up a little device to have blood shoot outward from the father’s neck.

    At this point, I’m not sure what to make of the lead protagonist – Eve. I like that her motivation in the series appears to be hunting down Mick, something that didn’t really happen in the other movies. I’m just not sure how believable it is that this girl will be a threat to Taylor. She’s already doing a tad bit too much thanks to leaving the hospital after just a couple of days and running all around. It does seem as if she might struggle thanks to her need of prescriptions and still recovering from being shot. We saw one glimpse into Eve’s struggle when she incorrectly finds “Mick” and makes a huge scene at a strip joint. The star of the series after the first episode though is John Jarratt. I doubt I’d have any desire to watch the mini-series if they had found a new Mick Taylor. Chances are that if you’re a fan of Taylor’s antics from the two previous movies, particularly the second, you’re going to continue to love him here.

    Black Mirror

    I had only found out about Black Mirror by recommendation this summer with the suggestion of checking out the episode of “White Bear”. It was an incredible watch. Insanely depressing, fascinating from the very beginning that you had to keep watching to see what happened next, and the end leaves you feeling both satisfied and further depressed. Checking out some of the other episodes that Netflix had at the time, my feelings on the show remained the same. It’s an amazing show set in the near future where technology has messed the world up to some weird degree. However, despite loving the series, it’s not one I’m alright with binge watching. It’s too dark and I need a little light in between the episodes to keep from going crazy. I find that’s a fair gauge on whether or not a dark program is effective or not. In theory, if you’re watching something depressing like Black Mirror, you want it to stick with you after the credits are finished.

    Initially, I was only going to watch the first episode of the debut season on Netflix (Which technically is season 3), but then I ended up getting ahead of myself and watched the first four of six episodes instead. Thus far, the new season has been a mixed bag. In the first episode, “Nosedive”, Bryce Dallas Howard stars in a pastel covered world where everyone is glued to their cells and are constantly rating each other. Literally, everything gets rated. If you order a drink from a food cart, you rate your experience with the guy handing you your drink. If you exchange some small talk with someone in an elevator, you both rate each other once the ride is finished. The darkness of the episode comes into play when it comes to how desperate characters become to be highly rated, the drawbacks to not having a certain minimal ratings, and the anxiety one feels when everything is spiraling out of control. It’s certainly an episode where you’re left wondering if you care too much about social media in the present time. This episode filled my need of seeing a depressing story unfold, although the ultimate conclusion to the episode seemed oddly upbeat. It’s a good first episode though and fits the overall theme of “Technology based story of fright” quite well.

    The second episode of “Playtest” features the story of an American traveling around the world, but when his bank account is emptied, he’s forced to accept an online job offer to test out a sketchy video game while in England. This episode was far more in your face than the other episodes of Black Mirror that I’ve seen. At the same time, if you’re a horror fan, it features more clear cut horror than anywhere else in the series. A large portion of the episode takes place in a video game based mansion that feeds on your worst fears. Such fears include spiders, both of the regular and supersized variety, the return of past bullies, weird noises throughout the mansion, and the ever increasing uncertainty of knowing reality and what’s only part of the game. My biggest frustration with the episode was how often the lead character was drawn out of the VR game, only for it to be revealed that he was still in it. It was overkill and these sort of multiple endings do more to kill my interest than to keep me invested. I do believe horror fans are more likely to enjoy this episode than others.

    Up next was my favorite thus far in season 3, “Shut Up and Dance” due to the fact that it summed up everything I love about Black Mirror and I felt it was comparable to “White Bear”. In this episode, a teenage boy is blackmailed with a webcam recording of a little action he did while sitting in front of his laptop. The episode was just one giant mystery and the further along it goes, the more questions pop up. Throughout this teen’s story, he comes across several other people that seem to be blackmailed as well with their own unknown secrets. At no point did I ever feel confident in which I knew what exactly was going on. As a result, I was constantly changing my assumption of what was going on with everyone, whether anyone the teen interacts with is fully honest, and if the teen is actually a true victim or not. Unless episodes 5 or 6 end up blowing me away, I’d be surprised if this doesn’t end up being my favorite of the season. Horror wise, it may be light due to the fact that the fear this episode creates is the terror of having your secrets revealed to the world, but it’s still my top recommendation. Stop reading this review and watch the episode.

    Finally, there was the fourth episode, “San Junipero” features the relationship between two women that seem to not be limited by time or age. This episode was a complete failure for me. It wasn’t until around the twenty-two minute mark or so that some sci-fi aspects of the episode finally began. Even then, it didn’t cause me to enjoy the episode any more than I previously wasn’t. By the end of the episode, I didn’t feel as if anything was depressing, horror-related, or featured the proper drama that I expect from Black Mirror. In reality, it’s some random tale of romance with a slight sci-fi twist. I suppose if you’re not a fan of how dark Black Mirror can be, this might be more of an episode that you can be into. I hated it and it’s easily my least favorite episode I’ve seen from any season of Black Mirror.

    Overall, my opinion on season three of Black Mirror will greatly depend on my views of the final two episodes. There was one great episode, one lousy one, and then two mostly good, but not without it’s imperfections. Go out of your way to watch “Shut Up and Dance” though.

    Channel Zero

    The only series of these four that I don’t have any prior experience with. It wasn’t until after I had watched this debut episode that I had read the creepypasta that inspired the series. In the creepypasta, it was simply a forum based series of posts where a group begins discussing a television show that they have vague memories of watching during a two month period of their childhood. With each new addition to the list of posters, the recollections begin to expand until a surprising reveal by one of them. The debut episode took that initial idea and expanded it so that this bizarre television show from 1988, Candle Cove, coincidence with a series of missing children cases. Now in the present time, the series appears to be back on the air for the children of a small town with the former children of 1988, now adults, having to deal with the consequences of such a happening.

    Scare wise, the first episode featured some great moments. Within the first minute or two, there’s a huge WTF moment. While it wasn’t featured often, any of the shots of Candle Cove was terrifying. It’s all old school puppets and creepy without “Intending” it to be creepy for children. It seems to also be that there’s a willingness to have more over the top type of creatures in the series. There was one tooth based monster that falls somewhere between being just weird and being scary looking. Really though, the most effective scare from the first episode was the case of the missing girl and the fear that comes from not being able to trust anyone due to her disappearance.

    With the intention for the series to tell a different story each season, ala American Horror Story, there’s some solid potential for Channel Zero. My impression after just one episode is that the series is going to show some restraint, unlike American Horror Story, so that it’s not just a series of never ending horror tropes being thrown at your face. It seems to me that if you’re a fan of Stephen King’s IT, you’ll likely enjoy Channel Zero.

  3. Day 22: Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016)

    Rating: 7.5/10 (high-priority rental/see it in theaters)

    — — — — — Contains spoilers — — — — —

    What I liked:
    – The film had a great authentic look and feel befitting its 1960s setting.
    – Interesting, fully realized and likable characters.
    – The film features a well-developed, rich story that is patiently built up.
    – Great performances by the children actors that contributes to the film’s overall creepiness.

    What I didn’t like:
    – Suffers from all the usual modern supernatural film tropes, including cheap editing jump scares and weird face CGI.
    – Predictably goes off the rails at the end, which doesn’t balance with the deliberate storytelling that unfolded before it.

  4. Day 22: The Invitation (2016)
    Rating: 7.5/10

    I watched this film because of Dr. Shock’s Review. For me, the lantern was a little touch that puts this films above average. Great steady building of characters.

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