August 26, 2022
by Carla Hay
Directed by Jessica M. Thompson
Culture Representation: Taking place in England and briefly in New York City, the horror film “The Invitation” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with one biracial person, a few black people and one Asian person) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.
Culture Clash: An aspiring ceramic maker, who is an American orphan in her 20s, is invited to go to England to meet her long-lost relatives, but she finds out these relatives have sinister plans for her.
Culture Audience: “The Invitation” will appeal mainly to people who don’t mind watching formulaic horror movies that are frequently dull.
If the horror flick “The Invitation” were an actual invitation, the RSVP would stand for “regurgitated, silly vampire pap.” As the movie’s “woman in peril,” Nathalie Emmanuel tries to bring personality to a film that’s relentlessly mediocre. The movie trailer for “The Invitation” gives away about 80% of the major plot developments. But even if you don’t see this movie trailer filled with spoiler information, everything in this unimaginative film is easy to predict.
Directed by Jessica M. Thompson (who co-wrote “The Invitation” screenplay with Blair Butler), “The Invitation” is a cinematic version of a cheap romance novel with a vampire twist that fails to be suspenseful. The movie’s jump scares look forced and don’t last long. All the horror elements of “The Invitation” are derivative of much better horror movies.
The protagonist of “The Invitation” is Evelyn “Evie” Jackson (played by Emmanuel), an aspiring ceramic artist in her 20s who lives in New York City. Evie, who later says she’s trying to get a master of fine arts degree, hasn’t been able to make a living as an artist. She pays her bills by working as a server at a catering company.
Evie is an independent-minded bachelorette who lives alone and currently has no special person in her love life. She has a (cliché alert) sassy best friend named Grace (played by Courtney Taylor), who is also a bachelorette, and they often commiserate with each other about their lovelorn experiences with dating. Later in the movie, Evie mentions that she’s in no rush to get married, which makes a certain turn of events in the movie more horrifying to her.
Evie’s father died when she was 14. Evie’s widowed mother died of cancer a few months ago. Evie has no siblings. And so, when Evie spends her birthday by herself, she does so by making ceramics and listening to a past voice mail message from her mother. It’s the movie’s obvious way of showing that Evie is in such grief over her mother’s death, Evie wants to spend her birthday alone.
Not long after her birthday, Evie takes an at-home DNA test, by using a kit from a genealogy company that had a recent event where Evie worked as a catering server. When the DNA test results come back, Evie finds out that she has a long-lost second cousin named Oliver Alexander III (played by Hugh Skinner), an aristocrat who lives in England. The next thing you know, Evie is having a lunch meeting in New York City with Oliver, who initiated this meeting.
Oliver explains to Evie that their great-grandmother Emmaline Alexander had an affair with a footman, who was black. In an era when interracial relationships were very taboo, Emmaline got pregnant and gave birth to a son, who was Evie’s maternal grandfather. Evie is also the child of an interracial couple. Her mother was black, and her father was white. Oliver lets Evie know that the current members of the Alexander family are not racists and that she’s welcome in the family.
Oliver invites Evie to meet her long-lost British family during a wedding that will take place at a lavish English countryside estate of another wealthy family whose surname is Deville. (“The Invitation” was actually filmed in Hungary.) Oliver quickly mutters something about a cousin named Martin who’s marrying a member of the Deville family. Oliver insists on paying for everything for this first-class trip. Evie is hesitant at first to take this generous offer, but of course you know that she changes her mind. Oliver simply won’t take no for an answer.
When Evie arrives at the estate, she’s outside and accidentally bumps into a few maids, who are carrying drinking glasses that shatter on the ground. Evie makes profuse apologies, but the estate’s haughty head butler Mr. Fields (played by Sean Pertwee) scolds the maids, even though Evie says she’s entirely to blame for the accident. Mr. Fields looks up and down at Evie (who wears a nose ring) and coldly asks her who she is and what she’s doing there.
Mr. Fields’ snobbish attitude toward Evie has racist overtones, since Evie is the only guest at the estate who isn’t white. Oliver steps in and introduces Evie to Mr. Fields as a member of the Alexander family. Mr. Fields’ attitude immediately changes to being polite and professional, but Evie feels hurt and angry over his insulting demeanor toward her when they first met.
It isn’t long before Evie meets the handsome and charming owner of the estate: Walter “Walt” Deville (played by Thomas Doherty), who makes an apology to Evie about Mr. Fields’ rudeness when Walt sees that Evie feels offended and uncomfortable. Evie is immediately attracted to Walt, and the feeling seems mutual. They mildly flirt with each other in a way that people do in movies where you know that that this flirtation is going to turn into a romance.
Mr. Fields shows Evie around the inside of this palatial estate, and he tells her that she’s welcome to go anywhere except the library, which is locked. And it’s at this point in the movie that you know Evie will eventually go in the library, where secrets are obviously being kept locked up. During this house tour, Evie meets chief housekeeper Mrs. Swift (played by Carol Ann Crawford), a friendly staffer who has been assigned to be Evie’s personal maid during this trip.
Evie feels awestruck by all the opulence and wealth on display. She also feels somewhat out-of-place, since she never grew up with this type of money and privilege. In order to cover up her insecurities, she makes sarcastic comments to Walt and to Grace (who talks with Evie on the phone for video chats) about what it must feel like to be super-rich.
Sure enough, Walt begins to court Evie. In a private conversation that Evie has with Oliver, she checks with him to make sure that the Devilles are not biologically related to the Alexanders. Oliver says with a smirk that the two families are not biologically related. And as soon as Evie gets confirmation that if she got romantically involved with Walt, it would not be incest, Evie lets Walt get closer to her. Eventually, Walt tells Evie that his parents are also deceased.
The courtship is a whirlwind affair. Walt even does things such as give Evie a designer gown to wear at a pre-wedding party at the estate. Evie thinks it’s almost like a fairytale where she is being treated like a pampered princess. But since “The Invitation” is a horror movie, this fairytale is going to turn into a nightmare.
Before that happens, Evie starts to feel more comfortable around her stuffy family members and the Alexander family’s equally stuffy friends when they hold a reception in her honor. She’s given a warm welcome by family patriarch Alfred Alexander, who leads the group in raising drinking glasses to give an enthusiastic toast to Evie.
Almost all of the family members are men. Someone in the group mentions in a foreshadowing comment that they need more women in the family. Evie might have been welcomed into this family, but she still wants to keep her identity. When Oliver introduces Evie as “Evie Alexander,” she corrects him and reminds him that her last name is Jackson.
At a pre-wedding party, Evie is introduced to two more people from nearby aristocratic families: Lucy (played by Alana Boden) is a bubbly blonde. Viktoria (played by Stephanie Corneliussen) is an icy brunette. Lucy is amiable to Evie, but Viktoria is openly hostile to Evie. Viktoria also shows signs that she’s very jealous of Evie’s blossoming romance with Walt.
There are demon creatures lurking around the Deville house at night. “The Invitation” has a lot of stereotypical jump scares involving these creatures, with very brief moments of effective tension. Evie sees one of these creatures on the top of her canopy bed. She screams and hides underneath the bed, but she doesn’t do what most people would do: Leave the house, or at least insist on sleeping in another room.
The movie’s opening scene also shows a woman in the house committing suicide by hanging herself. Later, when Evie is at the mansion, Mrs. Swift tells Evie that this woman was “the lady of the house,” who died recently. The name of this woman should come as no surprise when it’s revealed. And then, certain maids end up getting murdered.
The problem with “The Invitation” is that it could have been more intriguing, but everything in the movie is just shallow. “The Invitation” just goes through the motions of things that have already been done in many other horror flicks about ghosts, demons and vampires. The movie has issues about race and social class that are dangled in front of viewers but never fully developed. “The Invitation” didn’t need to be a “Get Out” ripoff, but it could have made some clever commentary about social prejudices or feeling like an outsider in the context of this horror story.
Instead, the movie just has Grace make unfunny, racist wisecracks about Oliver being “the whitest person I’ve ever seen,” and Grace saying that Evie better be careful about being around so many white people. Grace comments that these white people could be after Evie to harvest her organs. (It’s this movie’s weak semi-nod to “Get Out.”)
Because, yes, as already shown in the trailer for “The Invitation,” Evie has been lured into a trap by a group of vampires. The reasons why they targeted Evie are eventually revealed, but these reasons aren’t surprising since the movie trailer shows Evie in a wedding dress. As for the vampire groom, remove the last two letters of the name Deville. This movie is not subtle at all.
In her performance as the strong-willed and independent Evie, Emmanuel seems to be doing her best to make Evie a convincing character. But after Evie sees the demon in the bedroom, Evie unrealistically seems to get over it quickly. Doherty’s performance as Walt should have gotten more menacing as the story goes along. Instead, the performance becomes campier as the story devolves into a cesspool of vampire clichés. All of the movie’s other cast members give adequate or forgettable performances.
Although the production design and costume design for “The Invitation” are attractive to look at, the movie’s visual effects aren’t very impressive. “The Invitation” has scenes where a massive fire has engulfed an area—and all of the fire looks very phony. The fight scenes are almost laughable. However, “The Invitation” has a manicure scene with some effective sound editing and sound design intended to make viewers squirm.
“The Invitation” takes so long to get to any real action, by the time the showdown scenes happen, they all feel anticlimactic. Certain fight tactics that are used by the protagonist are too easy to predict. And there are some aspects of the story that are just downright dumb. For example, the very last scene in the movie is ridiculous and unnecessary. “The Invitation” is not the worst horror movie ever made. It’s just not an impressive horror movie, and it will be forgotten quicker than a hungry vampire can bite a victim.
Screen Gems released “The Invitation” in U.S. cinemas on August 26, 2022.