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the Invitation

Writer and director Karyn Kusama burst onto the scene in 2000 with the extremely well-received Girlfight, about a female boxer (Michelle Rodriguez, in her very first role) taking home a number of festival awards. Kusama’s next film, 2005’s sci-fi action adventure Aeon Flux, starring Charlize Theron as an assassin, didn’t fare nearly as well, but she bounced back a bit with Jennifer’s Body in 2009, the Diablo Cody penned horror-comedy about a demon-possessed high school girl. She didn’t direct a feature again for six years until The Invitation in 2015. Since then, Kusama has stuck to television, directing episodes of shows such as Chicago Fire, Masters of Sex, Billions and Halt and Catch Fire, but The Invitation once again showed that she can do a lot with a little.

Logan Marshall-Green stars as Will, who, after two years with no contact, has received a dinner party invitation from his ex-wife Eden (Tammy Blanchard). Eden still lives in the same Hollywood Hills house, though now with her new husband David (Michiel Huisman). With his new girlfriend Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi), Will arrives to find the old gang of friends together again, including Gina (Michelle Krusiec), Tommy (Mike Doyle), Miguel (Jordi Vilasuso), Claire (Marieh Dalfino) and Ben (Jay Larson). They haven’t heard from Eden either until the fancy invitations arrived but are excited to have the group assembled; perhaps it will be just like old times.

Or not. Maybe Will should have recognized some sort of symbolism when he hit a coyote with his car as he and Kira drove to the party, and the two acquaintances of Eden and David seem a little off. David’s first introduction to Sadie (Londsay Burdge) is a view of her staring at him from a room down the hall, which might not be so strange if she wasn’t also pantless. And Pruitt (John Carroll Lynch) is very big and very quiet, in a menacing way.

The Invitation takes its time developing, letting you in on its characters’ motivations and histories slowly, so that, like Kira, we start to get uncomfortable, but we aren’t really sure if it’s just from being an outsider in this group of old friends. An awkward moment or two can be forgiven -- Will and Eden used to be married, after all, so of course there will be some tricky situations. As the evening continues, the squirm factor increases, even as we’re kept guessing as to who is really “off” -- perhaps some folks are just being too sensitive?

Starring a bunch of unknowns (other than Lynch), The Invitation is a surprisingly interesting and effective low-budget find, perfect for a night of Netflix.

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