The now infamous film Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner was originally made with the intention of breaking racism by showing a white woman bringing home a black man to her parents’ house for dinner. While the film was made with good intentions, it was criticized for its idealized version of a black man and interracial relationship. Since then, there have been several films seemingly parodying and reinterpreting this premise, with some being successful such as Jordan Peele's Get Out, others have been less-than stellar, as is the case with The Invitation.
Evelyn “Evie” Jackson (played by Nathalie Emmanuel) is a struggling artist whose mother recently passed away due to cancer. One day, she comes across an ad on the internet that determines your lineage and decides to submit her information to the listed address. She later finds out she has a cousin from England named Oliver (played by Hugh Skinner) who comes from old money and invites her to a family reunion and wedding taking place in their English estate. Upon arriving, she takes a fancy to the lord of the estate, Walter DeVille (played by Thomas Doherty). As she stays at the estate, she begins having nightmares of a woman killing herself all while being stalked by an ominous presence in the estate.
When I watched the opening scene, I thought that this film was going to be similar to Guillermo Del Toro’s Crimson Peak. It fit the Old English aesthetic and Gothic atmosphere. However, when it cuts to modern-day New York, it begins to lose its unique look. As I kept watching the film, I felt it was very predictable with little to no new surprises. Even when the family was revealed to be a secret society of vampires, I wasn’t at all surprised since the family always had an unsettling aura about them. Despite this intentionally being similar to Get Out, in the latter, the Armitage’s appeared to be a regular family when they were first introduced and the viewer slowly saw that they weren’t normal as the film goes on. But this isn't the case in The Invitation.
Speaking of vampires, throughout both literature and history, vampires were used to explore themes of sexual voraciousness, individuality and freedom. This is represented in the film, notably during the scene where Evie is talking about marriage with two maids of honor: Viktoria and Lucy. While the latter two both looked forward to marriage and the benefits it’ll provide, Evie is more concerned with her own independence and is not looking forward to marriage anytime soon. However, this theme gets buried by the film’s mindless romance and poorly-constructed horror, comprised mostly of cheap jump scares.
The Invitation tries to balance its romance and horror elements much like Crimson Peak. However, unlike Crimson Peak, it both fails to tell a compelling story and the romantic subplot feels out of place. The film would try to be scary in one scene and literally the next scene would cut to a romantic moment between Evie and Walt. Why do this? Not only does the romance feel forced, but it takes away from any tension given from the horror. Meanwhile, by relying too much on jump scares, the horror is very cookie-cutter and overstays its welcome. Even films such as Insidious and Paranormal Activity use less jump scares than this film! The Invitation has the perfect atmosphere for a horror film, but it doesn’t know how to properly use it to its advantage.
Despite a strong performance from Nathalie Emmanuel and an attempt to retell the infamously classic Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner story, The Invitation ultimately feels like a cheap imitation rather than a long-lasting work of art. The film had numerous resources it could use to its advantage to tell something truly unique and horrifying. However, it not only fails at being a horror film, but also a reinterpretation. Had the film used a more subtle horror approach that builds up to the final reveal, it could’ve been more successful. But as it is, the film is just a predictable and boring mess.