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.
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I've been thinking about this movie a lot--specifically the ending. For reasons I can't quite explain, the entire experience was elevated by the final shot (where we see multiple lanterns and realize the scope is so much larger). Had that shot not existed, I think the movie would have been pretty forgettable. Instead, it stuck with me for days. It's terrifying to contemplate that one small choice can have such an outsized effect. I wish I had a better understanding of the alchemy at play.
It's funny, the guy I saw it with lost a lot of respect for the movie after that final shot, feeling that it added a silly "Purge" element. I thought it was a fun little shocker, but it didn't add much meaning for me at the time. As with everything else, it now seems to take on new significance in the post-apocalypse.
The film packed its punch - but I found myself wondering about a few smallish things that might have improved the impact:
1. Overall, it seemed to have more characters than necessary - diluting things for me. Two or three less people in play would have tightened it up (I think).
2. Finding the computer, all set to play the video clip revealing the real scope of events in play — set off my 'coincidence' flag. I think that could have been a motivated find.
3. The surviving couple has too much time to roam free around the house (esp. after the pool scene) - Tension was drained a bit there for me.
Some off-the-cuff thoughts on why I liked the ending shot:
- I liked that it increased the scope of the events: we discover that this intimate story is actually global.
- It actually made the story *less* convenient and sadistic. Why does this grieving father (of all people) get roped into this bloody madness? It's nothing personal; he's just one of many victims.
- It instantly resolved a number of tiny plot holes regarding the fact that if this cult was a known thing--people would know about the murders at previous dinner parties. To instead have the events of this movie be part of a grand scheme enacted across the city made it more believable that our characters didn't know better.
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