Wednesday, 14 September 2022

The Invitation (2022) - Movie Review

Under normal circumstances, writing about a film like this that hinges on a plot twist would be difficult. As much as I gush over the films I like, and trash the ones I don’t, I try and be careful not to get too specific about what happens in the story. The last thing I want is to ruin the experience for someone else, even if it’s with a film I personally don’t care for. However. Seeing as this film has been marketed so poorly that both its trailer, and the first paragraph of its Wikipedia page (not even the plot synopsis, but the full page), give it clean away, I don’t particularly feel like putting in more effort than the people responsible for bringing this to the public. Although, as we’ll get into, that will be a familiar sensation throughout this review regardless.

Let’s get into the production values first: This looks ghastly, and not in the way the filmmakers likely intended. Set mainly in a posh English manor, where main character Evie (Nathalie Emmanuel) receives the titular Invitation to as a long-lost cousin of the presiding Alexander family, the visuals keep aiming for Gothic horror, in-line with the story, but it keeps coming across more like Downton Abbey with a slashed lighting budget. This isn’t helped by the embarrassing lack of atmosphere, where jump scares… actually, that’s not putting it harshly enough; the worst kind of jump scares, where it’s just smash cuts to random shit and passers-by with accompanying blasts of orchestral strings, are about as ‘scary’ as this ever gets.

Then there’s the acting on display. Nathalie Emmanuel has been inching towards a feature leading role for a while now, between her work in the Fast & Furious movies, Army Of Thieves, as well as the Netflix Dark Crystal series. She is unequivocally the best performer here, but I’d argue that that has more to do with the writing than her acting chops (although, credit where it’s due, she does well in that department). The reason why she comes across as likeable as she does is probably the result of her being the only one who is written like an actual fucking sentient being.

Everyone else, from the aristocratic lords and ladies of the manor to the servant staff, even her best friend back in New York, act so much like robots feigning hu-man emotions that I half-expected that to be the plot twist. Hell, with how much this openly cribs from Get Out, I was expecting that to be this film’s version of body-swapping, since the painfully on-the-nose dialogue about everyone being older than they look didn’t leave many other options.

But no. Even that kind of blatant theft would be beyond the imagination of the writer for this mess. Part of me wants to start making snide comments about how said writer, Blair Butler, got her big break writing for G4’s Attack Of The Show in its original incarnation. But that would be unfair… to how Attack Of The Show functions nowadays. While the reboot definitely has its cringey moments, it’s usually buoyed by how everyone involved seems in on the corniness of the whole thing; it comes across as earnestly silly rather than just plain bad.

Here, however, we have what can charitably be described as Dracula fanfiction in the strictest sense of the term. Everyone is written like parodies of parodies, like someone tried to remake Francis Ford Coppola’s film version but only had someone else’s half-conscious recollections of a YouTube video of a 2010s Angry Critic to work from. The only exception to that is Evie, and that’s only because she exists primarily to openly point out how clichéd and predictable everyone and everything is in this. Even with the last few years’ worth of Kissing Booth and After movies, this still feels like the most one-to-one recreation of a fanfiction self-insert I have ever seen in a film.

And on the note of trying to be cleverer than its own clichés, there’s a lot of Ready Or Not in this as well. It has pretences of showing classism (and some very thrown-in racism) from the well-off vampires towards the working-class Evie, and it aims for a similar tone of taking a familiar idea and subverting it… but without actually subverting it. I may have been a bit lukewarm on Ready Or Not (probably due for a rewatch, now that I think of it), but it still followed through on a lot of what it set up with its characters and larger ideas. Here, they’re just pointing out the obvious right before going along with the obvious; it crosses the line between knowingly silly and just plain not caring.

Hell, even Evie’s genry-savviness dissipates near the end, and then she just goes along with the blatantly creepy shit going on around her. That is, until the film’s ‘twist’ is pushed right into her (and the audience’s) faces.

Now, with how much I have bitched about this film (and could easily just keep going; I swear, I damn-near hacked up a lung when a character introduced herself as Mina Harker), this next statement might cause some whiplash but… I still had a lot of fun with this. I got to see this in the cinema, for cheap, with a small-ish audience that was just as incredulous about what was going on as I was; this is field-tested riff material right here. Much like the After sequels, it hits that sweet spot of schlocky garbage that, under the right circumstances, can make for an entertaining sit. I guess there’s something about fanfiction having millions of dollars thrown at it to be put on the big screen that is starting to win me over.

Don’t get me wrong though: This is bad. It’s almost shocking just how amateur-hour the writing is here, and knowing that Karyn Kusama (who made a much better horror film called The Invitation) had her own Mina Harker film shut down while this went through dampens the joy somewhat. Hell, in regards to the larger problem concerning the wave of fanfiction at 24 facepalms/second that Fifty Shades Of Grey has wrought, this is the worst offender yet. But in that same vein, there’s something poetic about a film that so badly mangled the understanding of BDSM spawning a wave of films that actually convey an experience that is both painful and pleasurable, however unintentionally.

No comments:

Post a Comment