Synopsis – A young woman is courted and swept off her feet, only to realize a gothic conspiracy is afoot.
My Take – Considering how overexposed they have become in the last decade, at the current moment I think vampires can be almost anything except be fearsome anymore, ironic considering how the undead creatures have been a dominant figure in the horror genre for years.
In an attempt to recuperate them to their former status, this latest gothic horror thriller gets back to basics by taking inspiration from Bram Stoker‘s novel Dracula, while throwing in the social critique and the very successful out-of-place house guest scenarios of Get Out (2017) and Ready or Not (2019) into the mix.
However, despite those obvious inspirations, the film never manages to be scary, and worse, it forces its bloodsuckers to cover behind a boring and lifeless screenplay. Despite the grounds providing an eerie enough setting and some ambitious efforts taken by director Jessica M. Thompson (The Light of the Moon) and writer Blair Butler (Helstrom) to revitalize hoary horror film tropes with allegorical commentary on race, class and male privilege, the film is just too exhaustively hackneyed for much of its running time. There are so many homages and snippets of scenes that work and had me intrigued, only to get ripped away to mediocre finishes and hasty tie ups.
Yes, there are a few jump scares, some of which are almost effective, but much of the film is very standard that never rises about how generic and dull a lot of it is, never bringing the story to satisfying conclusions. Sure, there are worse horror films out there, but what makes this one equally bad is how it squanders its good idea, leading to a film with a few scary scenes but without an overarching sense of dread.
The story follows Evelyn “Evie” Jackson (Nathalie Emmanuel), a struggling artist who makes most of her living waitressing at catering gigs, all the while deeply missing her dead parents, particularly her mother. Curious to find more relatives, she ends up participating in an easy to use DNA testing kit that she picked up from an event that ends up revealing her ancestral connection to a rich household primarily based in England.
However, Evie is surprised when she is contacted by Oliver Alexander (Hugh Skinner), an apparent cousin who is in New York for business, who meets her and immediately invites her for an all-expenses-paid trip to the centuries-old family manor back in England to attend an extravagant wedding and meet her newly discovered relatives. Though Evie initially is skeptical, and not just because Oliver is conspicuously Caucasian while she is, well, Black, but he convinces her that one of her ancestors was the spawn of a then-scandalous affair, and the family now is just dying to meet her.
Things only get further interesting when Evie finds herself being courted by Walter (Thomas Doherty), the good-looking proprietor of the spectacular British mansion the mysterious marriage ceremony is being held. Nevertheless, as she begins to fall for him, Evie begins to suspect that Walter could also be harboring some dark, ugly secrets and techniques.
Thanks to its spoiler filled first trailer, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to say that Evie’s suspicions are well-founded. The film’s opening flashback sequence makes that totally clear, yet the film nonetheless makes an attempt to stretch out all of its very apparent mysteries for as long as it could. With only a handful of segments depicting servants violently dragged off into the shadows only further hammering the point. However, Evie is oblivious to all this. In fact, in her scenes, the story tries to act like everything’s hunky-dory with only minimal nods to what’s really happening.
The bait-and-switch of subbing a dubious romance in for vampire violence wouldn’t be much of a problem if the film were willing to invest in the Gothic style and foreboding atmosphere that helps make vampire love stories timelessly creepy. But instead, both director Thompson and writer Butler seem content with awkward flirting that’s shot as blandly as one could think of.
In consequence, the film shortly begins to really feel overlong and repetitive all through its second act, which often jumps between scenes of Evie and Walter flirting with one another and standalone sequences by which sure unlucky victims discover themselves trapped alone in rooms with mysteriously cloaked figures.
Yes, director Thompson makes an attempt to deliver some bone-rattling scares out of the setting. But these brief horror scenes are shot in an overly dark manner, with tacky blue lighting that obscures almost all of the action. It also doesn’t help that the film is awfully dry in the lead-up to its eventual supposed twist, pulling its punches, delivering a climax that’s rushed and jam-packed with exposition filled data dumps. The film’s eventual decision comes too shortly and too simple to be a satisfying payoff. Playing things predictably wouldn’t be a grave issue if there was a lot of campy mayhem to keep audiences entertained in the meantime.
Performance wise, Nathalie Emmanuel does her job admirably and Thomas Doherty seems to be having a lot of fun with his role. While Hugh Skinner is excellent as Oliver, the film completely forgets to use his character after the first act. In other roles, Stephanie Corneliussen, Alana Boden, Courtney Taylor and Sean Pertwee. On the whole, ‘The Invitation’ is a lackluster horror thriller that doesn’t use its blood thirty plot to it full extension.
Directed – Jessica M. Thompson
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 105 minutes