Tag Archives: Karyn Kusama

The Invitation (2016)


So this fellow movie buff friend of mine recommends me this new film called The Invitation, a low-budget horror/psychological thriller supposedly about a dinner party. I checked out the trailer — which was brilliantly put together — and still had no  idea what the film was about.

If you watched the above you might have gotten the sense I got — it’s eerie and tense and very unsettling overall. In other words, my kind of movie. Setting-wise, it reminded me of the excellent 2013 sci-fi flick Coherence, which was also about a dinner party that goes pear shaped.

Okay, so I don’t want to give away anything, but this is a film where it might help to understand the premise a little more so you don’t get confused. Essentially, it’s about a guy named Will (Logan Marshall-Green, who was in Prometheus) who gets invited to a dinner party by his ex-wife (Tammy Blanchard from Into the Woods, Moneyball and Blue Jasmine) and her new partner (Michiel Huisman from Game of Thrones) out of the blue, many years after their marriage was torn apart by a tragedy.

There are a bunch of old friends and strangers there, as dinner parties often do, but all throughout the evening Will can’t shake the feeling that something’s just off. We as the audience are led to believe that it could the hosts, the guests, or Will himself, or it could be just all in everyone’s heads.

The Invitation is a slow burn that gradually peels away the layers like an onion. The paranoia and tension are undeniable, fuelled by moments of strange behaviour, awkwardness and hints of sinister motivations. Director Karyn Kusama (best known for Girlfight and Jennifer’s Body) has a knack for creating a somewhat surreal and almost dreamlike atmosphere, where things appear normal but your intuition tells you something is wrong with the picture.

The performances also deserve a lot of credit for contributing to the unsettling atmosphere, with Logan-Marshall, Blanchard and Huisman all doing a solid job of keeping audiences interested. Well, at least it kept me interested enough to stick with it through the 99-minute running time, which felt a little long, to be honest.

Kudos for creating something out of very little, but for all its originality and creativity The Invitation is, in my opinion, overrated. A 91% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and 78% on Metacritic suggest something more remarkable than what the film actually delivers. Yes, it is unnerving at times and makes you feel uncomfortable, though I felt the direction the film was heading in was quite easy to predict through some common-sense reasoning. And there’s no denying that the film is slow — really slow at times — and the only thing holding up our patience is the apparent promise of a twist or some kind of impending disaster.

So on the whole, The Invitation is a film worth checking out if this kind of slow-burning, claustrophobic experience is your cup of tea. But in my view, the inevitable payoff isn’t enough to justify the lengthy and repetitive lead-up. It’s still an interesting movie, though it left me hoping it could have been a lot more.

3.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Jennifer’s Body (2009)

Talk about a letdown.

You have Diablo Cody, the creator of cult favourite Juno, which just won her the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay (and also the award-winning TV show The United States of Tara).  You have Amanda Seyfried, the up-and-coming star of Mean Girls and Mamma Mia!.  You have director Karyn Kusama, who was at the helm for Æon Flux (I know), but also the critically acclaimed Girl Fight.  And of course, there’s Megan Fox, who is widely regarded as the most desirable woman on the freaking planet.

On paper, Jennifer’s Body looks like a sure winner.  But somehow, the film received a lukewarm reception and totally bombed out.  It will go straight to DVD in Australia early next year.

After seeing it, I can kinda understand why.

As per usual, I’m not revealing the any more of the plot than necessary.  Just know it is set in a high school and is a horror comedy about two teenage girls.  One good thing is that the previews are somewhat misleading and don’t give away too much.

In a way, I can see where the movie was coming from.  At its heart, Jennifer’s Body is a very dark black comedy which pays tribute to the old school horror movies (and has a certain 80s feel to it).  There are parts that are genuinely funny if you appreciate dark humour (I certainly do), and there are a couple of scenes which may give you a fright, or at least make you cringe in disgust.

However, watching it, I got the distinct feeling that Cody deliberately set out to make a ‘cult’ movie – and that just doesn’t work.  Movies are given the distinguished ‘cult’ status by the fans.  When you try too hard to make a film quirky and wacky, it just gets weird – but without the accompanying unintended laughs.  There were so many WTF moments in Jennifer’s Body, but they weren’t necessarily good WTF moments.  Don’t get me wrong, Cody is a skilled screenwriter who writes witty, crisp dialogue and creates great characters, but it feels all too polished and packaged.

It’s a difficult film to rate because it has some great elements to it.  It’s sexy, hip and stylish and knows how to manipulate the audience, especially teenage boys (whom they probably thought would flock to see Fox and Seyfried get it on).  The performances are solid, especially Seyfried, who manages to pull off an ‘average’ teenage girl convincingly.  And Megan Fox surprised me with her acting ability.  Yes, she was playing a skanky, bitchy slut of a girl so it might not have been a stretch for her (think Eminem in 8 Mile), but she was actually very good.

On the other hand, Jennifer’s Body just wasn’t that enjoyable.  There are solid moments but it’s not particularly scary nor particularly funny.  It was a little all over the place (though this was probably intentional).  It’s unfortunate because I think they had something going here with the premise and the concept, but the pieces just didn’t fit together for some reason.

2.5 stars out of 5!