A lower-class woman with imposter syndrome visits a fancy mansion in the middle of nowhere and discovers that things might not be what they seem, eventually finding herself in a fight to survive. No, this isn’t referring to 2019’s incredibly fun, genuinely inventive action-horror Ready or Not, but rather 2022’s significantly less fun, considerably more predictable The Invitation.
While the former succeeds as a jaw-dropping, twist-filled ninety minutes of madness, The Invitation falls short as both a cheesy thriller-romance and an out-and-out supernatural horror. Delivering a charming romantic tale underpinned by unsatisfying spooks would be one thing; adding a stale romantic subplot to a creative, unexpected thriller would be another. Sadly, what this provides is the worst of both worlds.
On the horror side, the use of cheap jump scares, tired gothic visuals and convenient plot points are all deployed with little subtlety. Dark shadows lurk menacingly behind characters, sinister sounds reverberate around expansive hallways, and inexplicably strange events take place at alarmingly frequent rates – yet, despite all of this, our main character (Nathalie Emmanuel’s Evie) stays the course, refusing to pack her bags and leave these disturbing surroundings at the first opportunity.
The reason she’s happy to stick around, we’re supposed to believe, is because she has an instant, sensual chemistry with the chiseled bachelor of the manor, Walter (Thomas Doherty). The only issue is, she doesn’t. At no point is there a tangible connection between the two, and Doherty fails to deliver any sort of mysterious charm, instead giving off a distinct ‘serial killer vibe’ from the off. There’s surely only so much trust you’d put into a man you’ve only just met – even if he does have a mesmerising set of eyebrows.
For all the downsides, there are still elements to enjoy. Fans of schlocky B-movies – or lovers of Twilight – are likely to have a blast at times, with some of the stylistic and storytelling choices seemingly hand-crafted to tap into people’s love of trashy teen flicks. It aims for a pretty brainless, shallow viewing experience, and on the occasions that works, the film can be fun.
However, there simply isn’t enough quality here for consistent levels of enjoyment. This is particularly disappointing as Emmanuel, in her first leading blockbuster role, feels totally underserved – lacking anything substantial to really get her teeth into. The Game of Thrones regular is effortlessly engaging as the out-of-her-depth Evie, performing in a different league to nearly everyone else in the cast, but she is saddled by some poor, on-the-nose dialogue.
A weak script also spurns what is a hauntingly effective score from Dara Taylor. Horrors are so intrinsically dependent on their composers, and Taylor comes through with some uniquely chilling tunes – bringing a modern twist to the traditional operatic style you’d expect from this type of movie. It is a shame the story on screen doesn’t quite match what she delivers.
Laying into a release that’s designed to be trashy, mindless fun may seem harsh, but films like Ready or Not and 2020’s Freaky prove that corny, tongue-in-cheek thrillers can feel fresh, smart and memorable. Unfortunately, The Invitation is none of the above.
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The efforts of a delightful Nathalie Emmanuel are wasted in this predictable horror-thriller.
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