It’s not normally wise to accept a dinner party invitation from a long estranged former spouse and her new mate. Especially when it takes place in the house the couple once shared, and is the site of a family tragedy.
But Karyn Kusama’s “The Invitation,” an expert, thoughtful, and disturbing thriller, should not be passed up. Like all the best examples of the genre, the fear it engenders transcends contrivance and touches on the existential.
Will (played by Logan Marshall-Green, with the sangfroid of Brad Pitt’s better performances) is the troubled ex who has reluctantly agreed to join other friends at the glassy mansion in the Hollywood Hills where he and his then-wife Eden (Tammy Blanchard) lived a lifetime ago. Will’s new, nurturing partner Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi) joins him. She assures him that the motives behind the invitation are not suspicious. She has a more positive opinion of human nature and life in general.
Once at the place, Will’s anxieties grow. It seems that half the movie consists of close-ups of his expression of suppressed incredulity as he stares at such creepy, “The Shining”-type things as a kid doing a jigsaw puzzle, a naked woman grinning from the shadows, or David (Michiel Huisman), Eden’s lubricious new beau, locking the door.
But none of the other guests are much fazed by Will’s concerns. Enjoying the 1985 Lafitte Rothschild their hosts generously serve, the guests start to regard Will as a party pooper. Like Donald Sutherland’s character in “Don’t Look Now,” he’s still recovering from grievous loss. His point of view can’t be trusted.
But Kusama’s handling of point of view is diabolically shrewd. She maximizes the terror potential of the vapidly ostentatious modernist mansion without fetishizing it. She intensifies the monstrosity of some of the characters by making them all too human. And as for guessing the ending — good luck. It’s probably a lot worse than you imagined.
Directed by Karyn Kusama. Written by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi. Starring Logan Marshall-Green, Tammy Blanchard, Michiel Huisman, Emayatzy Corinealdi. At Kendall Square. 100 minutes. R (language and images of sex and violence).
Peter Keough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.