Tuesday, February 14, 2017
Best of 2016, #3: The Invitation
Warning: I know that not many of you saw this movie, and it’s best if you see it like I did, knowing next to nothing about it, so I would recommend that you read no further, go check it out, and then meet me back here. Unfortunately, I must include mild spoilers from this point on (albeit nothing you couldn’t guess from the trailer)
What I Liked About It: It’s a great movie about L.A. Like our last movie, it’s a great movie about self-destructive grief. It’s a great movie about how we all gaslight ourselves, especially in the age of Trump. We tell ourselves, “The world can’t possibly be this sinister. It’s not so bad. I must be crazy.” Then the bloodbath begins, and we ask, “Why didn’t I trust my terror?”
Rulebook Casefile: Establish the Nature of the Jeopardy. The Invitation is a fantastic thriller, but I hesitate to call it that. It has the structure of many great thrillers, where the real possibility persists for quite some time that everything might have a perfectly reasonable explanation (Think Rear Window). What makes this movie unique is how long it draws out that section of the movie. The sinister nature of the goings-on isn’t confirmed until the last possible moment, right at the beginning of Act Three.
So how do you draw things out that far? One way is to make every little line of dialogue or gesture seem ominous, because the filmmakers use lots of great tricks to put us deep inside the hero’s paranoid head. We jump because he jumps, even though we also keep our distance from him, doubting his sanity.
But the movie also uses a very simple trick. As our hero and heroine are on their way to this dinner party deep in the L.A. hills, they run over a coyote and mostly kill it. Once our hero realizes it can’t be saved, he casually puts it out of its misery with a mighty whack of a tire iron, then continues on his way as the credits roll. This is a way to establish that yes, there will be blood. Even as we doubt our hero’s paranoia later on, that disturbing moment of violence sets the tone. The first thing we saw was a killing, and we’re subconsciously expecting that this will once again become a killing movie. That sustains us during the long wait for the other shoe to drop.