The Invitation 2022

An ancestry test taken on a whim reveals a sprawling British family Evie never expected. Offered an all-expenses paid trip to England as part of a wedding invitation, this whole new world in a historic mansion with a charming owner turns out to be too good to be true in a classically horrifying way.

To work out if you want to see The Invitation you need only ask yourself one question: Do you like vampires? Something of a spoiler, but something the marketing has already done, and the feature rather badly needs to reach the right audience. On its surface, The Invitation looks like an attempt to be an upstairs/downstairs drama reveling in a rose-tinted fictionalised view of a rich ruling class, although the subversion of this saccharine pop culture trend is one of the strongest points of its narrative. There’s far worse to worry about than a social faux pas with the cantankerous butler, a brilliant villain turn by Sean Pertwee playing against the TV role of Batman’s Alfred a wider US audience is most likely to know him from.

The film, unfortunately, suffers from being a little bit too British, and a bit too slow-paced. The overall impact is to great effect, but it comes at the risk of losing a viewer’s interest if they don’t take the time to commit to that payoff. Due to this, The Invitation may suffer on streaming services if the potential audience goes in unaware, only to discard it under the impression there’s nothing more than the apparently obvious at play. While intriguing enough, and providing some early action that seeds a surprising amount of detail to be implemented later, the opening scene is ambiguous to the point it doesn’t signpost what is to come for horror fans. For a large amount of the run time this could be a mundane mystery or thriller, more Knives Out than Dracula, which is a double-edged sword. This uncertainty is a large part of the appeal, but the people who will enjoy that need to know this is the story for them so they turn up at the box office.

Don’t worry that being aware of the broader premise will hurt the viewing experience. That something bloodthirsty is hiding just beneath the veneer of wealth and glamour is obvious before too long, and the true selling point of the film is how they make use of the classic monster. Rooted in traditional tropes, the novel implementation is a real treat to any fan of those long-established storytelling conventions. The direct parallels drawn with wealth, power, and class tensions are an immediately satisfying direction to take. That it then playfully draws from well-established vampire literature at different points to focus upon the monster through a modern lens makes this a movie made with love for fans of horror.

One other weakness is that the scares are a little lacking here. Not entirely absent, there is a depiction of suicide early that only gets its full context in the third act and there’s a healthy enough body count with plenty of blood drawn. The Invitation is however driven by supernatural drama, and the threat to the leading character never feels visceral. What Evie, played brilliantly by Nathalie Emmanuel, goes through is more an existential threat than anything else, and an overriding Rule of Cool creeps in for the finale that further defangs the narrative. It doesn’t help that more traditional vampires are a heavily known quality, the lack of surprise they bring (even with a few twists in the implementation here) means there’s a low ebb in tension that would be needed to truly scare with them. With more of a wider focus on the mysteries and themes surrounding Evie’s story, there just isn’t much investment in the victims we do get that in turn leaves actual fear lacking.

Evie and her friend back in the US Grace (Courtney Taylor) make great counterpoints to both worlds presented by The Invitation, that of old money excess and the horrific true face that hides behind that wealth. The cast of antagonists is a delight as they move between the façade and the secret behind it. I’ve already mentioned Pertwee’s Mr. Fields, who would make a perfectly fine villain even if this didn’t veer into the supernatural, but he’s in a supporting role here. The true ones to watch are Thomas Doherty’s enigmatic turn as Walter, Stephanie Corneliussen’s femme fatale Viktoria, and Alana Boden’s unassuming (not to mention complicated) turn as Lucy. Plus, special mention to Hugh Skinner’s small but pivotal role as Oliver, as while he may fade into the background fast a lot of the plot hinges upon his true motives.

The Invitation is an unexpected treat for horror fans, given how tragically little it got played in cinemas. A strong charismatic cast makes full use of a stunning Gothic location to play with classic horror tropes. If you have no love for vampires, whether the classics or the modern, there’s not that much here for you to enjoy. If vampires are at all your thing, let alone a personal favourite, then this is pretty much the perfect viewing for you. Allow it to take a little time setting up, then enjoy it unraveling in a variety of ways at an alarming speed. While missable for everyone else this is close to essential viewing for anyone who enjoyed the early codification of vampire fiction from the Stoker novel through the Universal and Hammer periods. It’s neither the most action-packed nor the scariest, but it’s an immensely satisfying experience for anyone coming in to the cinema already armed with the history it was built upon.

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