Friday, April 15, 2016

The Invitation (opens in Cleveland April 15th exclusively at the Cedar Lee Theatre)

[THE INVITATION opens in Cleveland on Friday April 15th exclusively at the Cedar Lee Theatre.]

Review by Bob Ignizio

On the surface, most new-age beliefs are relatively benign regardless of whether they have any veracity or not. Some charlatan channeling chakras might bilk you out of a few bucks for crystals, but at least they aren’t going to ask you to drink the cyanide laced Kool-Aid like Jim Jones. But any time you have a charismatic figure who people believe has a personal hotline to truth and enlightenment, that possibility is always there.

That’s certainly the way Will (Logan Marshall-Green) views self-help group “The Invitation”, a group that his ex-wife Eden (Tammy Blanchard) joined after the death of their son. It’s been over 2 years since that tragedy when Eden invites Will, his new girlfriend Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi), and their old group of friends to a dinner party she’s hosting with her new husband David ((Michiel Huisman) and their live-in “friend” Sadie (Lindsay Burdge), both of whom are also group members. Later another group member, Pruitt (John Carroll Lynch), joins the festivities.

Things are uncomfortable from the start, and they only get more so once Eden and David give their friends a PowerPoint presentation on their new belief system. They get weirder still as Eden and David initiate a sexually charged party game at dinner. All the while, Will keeps flashing back to memories of his son. Could it just be his emotional state making him more sensitive, or is Will right to think that things are going beyond just weird and into dangerous?

Working from a strong script credited to Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi that prizes subtlety and intelligence over cheap shocks, director Karyn Kusama (GIRLFIGHT, JENNIFER’S BODY) does a good job building and maintaining suspense and making the audience question her protagonist’s point of view. Even once any doubt is removed as to what’s really going on, tension remains high. But as good as THE INVITATION is strictly on thriller terms, it also offers an interesting look at the way society often treats grief as something we should get over with as quickly as possible, and the negative ramifications of that.  3 ½ out of 4 stars.

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