Dark, plodding film delves into the bigger issues of life and death
The promise of eternal life has long been a selling point of most major religions. Be it the Christian idea of paradise in the everlasting presence of God, the promise of 72 virgins in certain Muslim traditions, the idea of reincarnation as a new being after death, or the joining with a universal consciousness after achieving the appropriate level of enlightenment, mankind has never been comfortable with the idea of death being final and endless.
Atheists maintain that death is nothing to fear, that it’s just a natural off switch, not unlike the period of time before birth. But being human, that finality, that lack of existence, is difficult to comprehend given just how intensely aware we are of our being. From an objective standpoint, it makes sense that every culture has created some solution to this final problem.
That we have continually and historically killed each other over these inherent attempts to reconcile our own mortality with our knowledge of it is mindboggling. But then, life is full of contradictions.
Beyond just our understanding that the end is coming, the idea of eternal life also allows us a way to balance the suffering of the world with a sense of fairness (even though much of the suffering we experience is of our own devising). We routinely end the suffering of animals out of kindness but often refuse to do so for our own species out of a bewildering respect for human life at all cost.
The Invitation, a slow burning thriller shown at the Chattanooga Film Festival and now available on Video On Demand, explores these themes in detail through the guise of a Hollywood dinner party.
The film begins as Will (Logan Marshall-Green) and his girlfriend Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi) are on their way to a party thrown by Will’s ex-wife Eden (Tammy Blanchard) and her new husband David (Michael Huisman). Over the course of the film, we learn that Will and Eden lost a child in an accident and subsequently were unable to stay together. They haven’t seen each other in two years.
As Will and Kira drive, Will hits a coyote in the road and is forced to put the animal out of its misery with a tire iron. When they arrive, they awkwardly interact with the party guests, all old friends who have been out of touch for a long time.
The film progresses through flashbacks and an overwhelming sense of weirdness that only Will seems to notice. It is the type of party most people would leave almost immediately—full of pseudo-philosophical discussions and wish fulfilling party games, topped off by a strange, cringe inducing introduction to a cult-like grief therapy organization called The Invitation.
This group appears to believe heavily in the afterlife, where all will be together again, free of suffering and strife. Eden and David show the party goers a snuff film where a leader in the organization assists a terminally ill woman in ending her life. As Will wanders the house that used to be his home, he continually catches glimpses and signs that something is not right, including a strange red lantern glowing in the dark.
The film at first glance seems overly plodding in its pace and awkward in its writings. But upon further reflection, it becomes obvious that the tempo is set this way so that the swell is that much more impactful.
The halfhearted conversations and forced socialization fit the tone so well that audience feels a part of the affair—there is a near overwhelming desire to leave the movie, but like the characters locked inside, the questions raised force the audience to remain in their seats, curious about the outcome.
The outcome, of course, is telegraphed far in advance. We know where this is going and our skin crawls as the party inches towards its Jonestown-esque denouement. The audience may vacillate back and forth some with Will, but ultimately, we knew what was happening from the moment David locked the doors.
The Invitation is effective in its storytelling and has a powerful sense of atmosphere. Its pace may be an issue for casual movie goers, but for those willing to experience the film, the payoff is well worth the time. But it’s the contradictions drawn between belief and reality that make the film linger in the mind.
Will was, if not comfortable in his decision to put the coyote down at the beginning of the film, at least accepting of it as right. The antagonists in the film feel the same way, which makes them downright terrifying.