The Invitation (2022)
Written by Blair Butler
Directed by Jessica M. Thompson
Review by: Mark Walker
A young woman is courted and swept off her feet, only to realize a gothic conspiracy is afoot (IMDB)
There are likely some spoilers in this review but nothing that I don’t think has already been shown in the trailers.
Nathalie Emmanuel plays Evie, a struggling artist, working as a waitress for a crap boss and mourning the recent loss of her sick mother. With her father having died when she was 14, she is all alone apart from her close friend, Grace (Courtney Taylor). After sending off her DNA using a kit from a goody bag she and Grace nick from an event they are waitressing at, Evie discovers that she has distant family in England and agrees to meet up with her newfound cousin Oliver who is in New York on a business trip.
After getting to know each other over lunch, Oliver tells Evie about another relation marrying into a wealthy family and invites Evie to join him.
Defying all common sense, Evie agrees to go, despite the protestations of Grace, the sensible, sassy best friend. So far, so GET OUT; the lone black woman in a sea of white faces, far from home and out of her comfort zone. While the set-up is familiar, The Invitation takes a vastly different turn from GET OUT and doesn’t quite work as well.
Evie travels to England where she meets the wealthy
Mr Darcy Walter Deville (see what they did there?) who is hosting the wedding and slowly falls for his charms. As Evie herself jokes early in the film, it is all a bit “Jane Austen” and “poor girl falls for rich guy who buys her a dress” but Nathalie Emmanuel plays Evie well enough to avoid her character sinking too far into stereotype.
Despite the excitement of finding a new family and the distracting levels of wealth, there are hints of something mysterious going on behind the scenes. Mildly angry and sinister Butler, Mr Fields (Sean Pertwee) is up to something, banning Evie from the Library, and there are strange noises in the woods at night. The house is dark and brooding, with gothic art and architecture; this is a place where things really do go bump in the night…some of them might even hiss occasionally.
The Invitation is a film of two halves; the slow burn build-up of creepy goings on and romantic entanglement as Evie gets wooed by Walter, and the second half explosion of action and violence when all is revealed and Evie has to fight for her life.
The first half works better than the second in my opinion. As a gothic horror you get what you expect, a creepy mansion, suspicious butler, mysterious noises, and dark shadows. It is brooding, menacing, and effectively creepy and we almost get some decent jump scares for good measure.
I say “almost” as, and I am not sure if this was a problem with the cinema I was in, the film overall is very dark and the scenes at night are painfully so. (MILD SPOILER) in one scene, when two maids are sent to the cellar to collect a bottle of wine, we know something is in there with them and something unpleasant is going to happen, but I have no idea what it was. I can understand the need to hide the monster(s) until the right time, but it was so dark, it could have been Mickey Mouse creeping around in the shadows for all I know. Actually, there weren’t any shadows, it was that dark. This was a shame as the scenes were suitably creepy, but I think they could have been a bit more effective if we could have seen just a tiny bit more of a hint of what was in there with them.
Even though you can’t see much, we have a fairly good idea that Evie has gotten herself involved with vampires. The wedding is at a mansion named Carfax, and Evie travels to Whitby for the ceremony. We have a maid of honour named Lucy and villagers called Jonathan and Mina Harker. These little easter eggs aren’t subtle, but they are fun as you spot them and I had a giggle, nudging my daughter in the cinema every time one came up.
It is when the reveal comes, and Evie has to fight back that film came a little unstuck. Things got a bit hammy with some grand scenery chewing and everything plays out very quickly. I doubt it was intentional, but some of the fighting between Evie and her captors became more amusing than dramatic.
Overall, the film is enjoyable enough; horror-lite, if you like. I’m too old to know for sure, but it felt more like a YA interpretation of a romantic horror and aimed at a younger audience? Whether it is worth your money at the cinema rather than waiting for streaming is a decision you will have to make. There is good stuff in The Invitation; Nathalie Emmanuel is great to watch, and it is a pity we didn’t get more of her friend Grace, who was a lot of fun. Sean Pertwee is on a serious scenery chewing mission, but I didn’t mind that so much as, well, it’s Sean Pertwee.
The Invitation is a difficult one to evaluate as it feels like there are lots of good aspects to it, they just didn’t all gel and coalesce into a great film. I didn’t hate it, but then I didn’t come out of the cinema desperate to discuss it in detail with the family, I just ended up moaning about how dark it was. I don’t believe it warrants some of the 1 and 2 star ratings that are appearing on IMDB, but I do agree that it feels a bit lightweight as a horror and I was surprised it was rated 15 in the UK – I can’t imagine there was much they woudl need to take out to make it to a 12. It is remarkably tame for a vampire film and there was extraordinarily little blood or heaving bosoms. When part of the plot revolves around wives for a suave, blood-sucking English Aristocrat, you would expect more erotica and, when vampires are anywhere to be found, you expect to see blood, lots of blood – there is precious little in The Invitation. This might all work together to create the film’s biggest problem, it doesn’t quite know who it is aiming itself at?