Office Christmas Party
Another reminder that allowing your cast to madly improvise instead of actually providing a coherent script with a scintilla of inherent logic often leads to…
“The Invitation” is a dinner-party-from-hell scenario best served as unspoiled as possible. After all, a psychological thriller built upon slow-simmering tension is only as good as its surprises. Therefore, I will refrain from any major bean spillage and provide what I think is just enough to get you hooked.
However, there is one element of note that can be revealed and celebrated without peril. Filmmaker Karyn Kusama has at last fulfilled the promise she showed in her knockout feature debut, “Girlfight,” a pugilistic coming-of-age drama from 2000 that also launched the career of its scrappy star, Michelle Rodriguez. With “The Invitation,” Kusama appears to have gotten her lean-and-mean vision back into focus, one that went astray with 2005’s female-driven action flop “Aeon Flux” and 2009’s Diablo Cody-ized, flesh-eating cheerleader horror comedy “Jennifer’s Body.”
With backing courtesy of Gamechanger Films, which finances indie movies directed by women, Kusama seems to be freed from much of the commerce-minded constraints placed upon her by regular studios. It also feels refreshing if almost shocking that nearly all of the characters at this reunion of friends, which takes place in a sprawling mid-century-style abode in the Hollywood Hills, are in their 30s. In other words, they are allowed to be adults. No blatant pandering to the youthful demo here. Plus, the cast is casually diverse as it features both multiracial and Asian couples.
The script—written by Kusama’s husband, Phil Hay, and Matt Manfredi—divides the story’s action equally between the genders. While there is a bit of a “Big Chill” feel—grief and loss of a loved one is the film’s emotional engine—“The Invitation” is primarily an intimate, highly effective chiller in a confined space with an armrest-grabber of a payoff.