The Invitation (2022) Review
DON’T ACCEPT THIS INVITATION!
Tales of vampires have always been a main staple in the horror genre….and I’m not just talking about movies. Mythical undead creatures of the night that derive from European folklore that subsists by feeding on the vital essence of life (aka blood) and have being classical depicted in traditional forms (i.e. pale skin, fanged teeth, dark hair, sleeps in coffin, hates the daylight, etc.). Perhaps the most famous comes in the shape of Dracula (aka Vlad the Impaler), with such description of being has transcended average folklore tales and has manifested in mainstream pop culture. With such fascination of vampires (and or Dracula himself), Hollywood has taken interest in these vampiric creatures in a wide variety of motion pictures, including 1992’s Dracula, 1994’s Interview with a Vampire, 2003’s Underworld, 2004’s Van Helsing, 2008’s Twilight, 2012’s Hotel Transylvania, 2014’s Dracula Untold, and many others. Now, Sony Pictures (along with Screen Gems and TSG Entertainment) and director Jessica M. Thompson present the latest film on the vampire variety with the release of The Invitation, a somewhat called back to the narrative of the Brides of Dracula. Does this sink its teeth into the fresh take on a old classic or is it a frivolous and bloodless endeavor that doesn’t really provide enough vampiric nuances?
Losing her father when she was younger, and mother a few months prior, Evelyn “Evie” Jackson (Nathalie Emanuel) feels lost and alone, struggling to make it as an artist, while dealing with dimensive jobs to make ends meet. Swiping a gift bag home from a posh catering gig, Evie uses a DNA test included in the package to find out her ancestry as well if any distant family member still exists. Soon enough, Evie is contacted by Oliver Alexander (Hugh Skinner), who identifies himself as a distant cousin to the young woman, excited to connect with a new member of the family. Oliver offers a chance to meet the rest of his clan at an upcoming wedding celebration in England, including first-class travel and luxury accommodations. Accepting Oliver’s invitation, Evie is brought into the world of opulence of stately English manor, with the master of the household, Walter De Ville (Thomas Doherty), a handsome young man, welcoming the young American woman with kindness and friendly demeanor. While expecting the usual fanfare of traditional English wedding, Evie is confronted by seduction from her host and confusion / crypt meanings with the strange atmosphere of the estate as well as the people who’ve gathered there. In time, mysterious events begin to take place, with Evie soon begin to wonder what she’s agreed to by joining a party where she is talk of everyone’s lips.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Of course, while I do love movies (in general), I do love all stuff fantasy. Beings of folklore, beasts of legend, and creatures of mythology, I would say that I am a fantasy nerd through and through. Thus, it comes as no surprise, I do find a somewhat interest in vampires. Not as much as some out there, but it’s kind of an interesting notion of these undead creatures that prey upon the lifeforce of blood has become a fascinating topic in folklore and in pop culture. Of course, the classic Dracula moniker and depiction was probably one of my first impression of how vampires are to be seeing. Naturally, this cartoon-ish depiction of such a character was probably something that most of us first drew eyes upon of vampires. Of course, as I got older, I found that vampire themselves became more mature and something more ghoulish and horrific as well as learning of all their superstitious rules (i.e. sleeping in coffins, fearing holy water, dislike of sunlight, silver can kill them, etc.). From there, I can recall a lot of the movies that had vampires creatures such Dracula, Dracula Untold, Underworld, and Interview with a Vampire, with some being iconic in cinematic history, while others are just forgettable pictures (forgot to mention Morbius). Yet, I still like the Hotel Transylvania movies that play up those cartoon-ish tropes of Dracula (aka “I don’t say…. blah, blah, blah!). Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Twilight (and all of that crazy that went with that novel / film franchise), with the tale of Edward and Bella intermingling the vampiric creatures with more Teen / YA overtones of young love. Although, I never get the whole “sparkling / glittery” skin…. that’s just dumb. In the end, vampire still have a keen interest amongst many and throughout my cultures and Hollywood seems to continue feed that particular interest to moviegoers.
Naturally, this brings me back to talking about The Invitation, a 2022 romance / horror that’s looking to speak to both genres. To be quite honest, I really don’t remember hearing much about this movie when it first announce. Nothing about the cast, or the director, or even the movie itself. It kind of went “under the radar” for most of the movie sites / film blogs that I do follow online and really didn’t see much about this upcoming movie. I think my first look at this particular film was the feature’s movie poster as well as the movie trailer for it. I think I only saw the movie trailer for The Invitation a few times during the ”coming attractions” preview when I went to the movies, but it really didn’t look quite that interesting. Of course, I immediately recognized actress Natalie Emmanuel as the film’s leading character, so that definitely got me interested, but everything else I wasn’t too keen on. Still, trying to keep an open mind on everything (as well as hoping for a surprise from this movie), I went to see The Invitation a few weeks after its initial release. Sadly, my schedule got busy (and then Hurricane Ian happened in my area), so I got a little bit backed up on getting my current reviews done, including The Invitation. Thankfully, I’ve been pushing myself to get these reviews completed and now…. I finally have time to give my personal thoughts on this particular film. And what did I think of it? Well, sadly…. It definitely wasn’t that good. Despite having a few nuances and a great presentation, The Invitation ends up being a wonky mesh-mash of romance and horror that really doesn’t due to its poor script, bland elements, and underwhelming characters. There’s an attempt to make this movie interesting, but it fades quickly and becomes a drudge to watch.
The Invitation is directed by Jessica M. Thompson, whose previous works include the movie The Light of the Moon as well as TV series such as Unstoppable and The End. Given her background experience on both the big and small screen, Thompson makes the most of her sophomore feature film and makes The Invitation her most ambitious project to date. To that end, I do have to give her some credit in making the jump to such a large production, especially with a wide variety of characters, interweaving storytelling threads, and trying to play both sides of narrative genres of both romance and horror. There is a sense of duality while watching this movie, with Thompson projecting a familiar tone of YA romance, with its cast of characters are always pretty to look at and finding a protagonist, who is trying to find herself. The flip side to that is the horror elements, with the usage of practical effects and other nuances to help build upon the scary horror moments. If both a “double edge” sword that Thompson tries to tackle (more on that below), but I believe it’s an ambitious one and I do commend her for at least trying. The result of it, while not perfect, still manages to have find a few key sequences that work effectively.
Perhaps the saving grace and true positive that the movie has to offer is in the presentation category, with The Invitation having a very good production quality in its setting / background aesthetics. The English landscape and the interior locations of the manor were quite impressive, with those touches gothic architecture and motif aesthetics quite enhances the feature’s setting. The background for the movie is almost a character unto itself and stands out more because the rest of the film is a bit “cold to the touch” (no pun intended). Even the movie’s costume and hair / make-up departments are quite solid throughout the feature and definitely highlight the heightened views of that English gothic feeling with a mixture of flashy modern elegance. Thus, the film’s “behind the scenes” team, including Felicity Abbott (production designs), Clare Keyte and Zsuzsanna Sipos (set decorations), Danielle Knox (costume designs), and the entire art direction team should be praised for their efforts in making the practical visual look of The Invitation look appealing. Plus, I do have to mention that some of the cinematography work by Autumn Eakin is actually pretty good and helps set the overall mood for the movie’s story, with the usage of smoke, lightning, and camera angles. Lastly, the feature’s score, which was composed by Dara Taylor, was just okay. It wasn’t downright terrible or anything like that, but neither did it have the memorable moments. The overall composition was just alright and meet the industry standard for a film soundtrack…just nothing about it really stick out to me.
Unfortunately, The Invitation is far from a chilling or stellar endeavor as the film itself stumbles through the feature’s narrative in a rather clunky and fumbling attempt in bring this tale to life. How so? Well, for starters, the movie is highly predictable and utterly formulaic to the touch. The direction of how everything goes is quite generic and plainly been done many times over in far better productions. Where does the fault lie? Well, it’s pretty much in all major areas. For starters, the story being told is quite predictable and doesn’t really leave anything in the presentation of being creative or originally done. This means that the film’s script, which was penned by Blair Butler, gives us the somewhat “bare bones” of the plot, with very little ingenuity for substance and makes the whole internal affair of what’s going very vanilla and formulaic. It’s quite obvious as to what was going to happen. A character would be introduced here and there, a minor character would be killed off, suspicion would arise from the main character, obvious bad guy try to make a pass at main character, and so on and so forth. It’s all been done before in other similar (or even better) projects out there and everything how the plot, including the script itself, seems overtly tedious and utterly bland to the touch. Even many of the dialogue lines are a bit muddled with badly written pieces and some cheesy lines. So, it’s quite hard to laugh at these particular moments, especially when the movie is trying to be serious. Furthermore, some of the backstory elements are fully fleshed out enough to warrant their existence, with some attention to detail lacking and coming off as a bit either too convenient or not entirely well-put together for the feature’s context. Because of the film’s narrative is stale and lazily put together, The Invitation ends up being quite boring, especially how everything ultimately plays out. There’s very little surprise or twists that arise and made the whole endeavor very much so on autopilot….and that’s not a good thing.
Perhaps of one of the biggest blunders that the movie’s marketing campaign does for the movie is in how it fully showcases a lot of the major plot in various movie trailers and marketing for the project. With the exception of the film’s final twist that occurs towards the third act, most of the feature’s main narrative points are showcases (in snippets), which is greatly disappointing and somewhat dilutes the effectiveness (aka…. the “shock and awe” factor) of when it actually happens in the movie. Thus, if a viewer has seen the film’s movie trailer, the movie itself will be quite disappointing. If any inkling to see The Invitation…. best to avoid watching any type of trailer and TV spot for it and just see it with very little insight into the feature.
Of course, I would be a little remiss if I didn’t mention that part of the feature’s problem stems from Thompson’s direction for the feature. Yes, I do praise her work in a few areas in the movie, but, at the same time, her lack of focus for the movie comes into question, especially how messy and haphazard the feature’s direction is presented. It’s clear that she wants to tell a story of a young girl that gets thrown into the mix of mysterious individuals with dark horrors and unsettling foreboding at where she is staying. And yet…. a lot of side characters are introduced and don’t really amount to anything beyond cannon fodder (or unnecessary details), a vague plot that has been played before, and just a bland construction of the entire project that does little or entice viewers into the film’s world. Even with its short runtime of being 104 minutes (one hour and forty-four minutes), Thompson struggles to find entertainment within the context of vampires and other horror elements within her presentation. Even so…the movie also struggles with its own identity…… is it a romance flick or a horror one? The marriage of the two could’ve worked (and has worked before), but Thompson’s handling of such tones of blending the two together is clunky at best. Perhaps what’s even worse is that Thompson fails to deliver on some of these scares that the movie has scattered throughout. There all the typical “jump scares” tactics that most viewers will immediately identify with, but none of them are really “scary” to say the least and nothing that will take your breath away. Again, it’s all been done before in other projects (and handled much better in those), with Thompson having a poor understanding of how to fully execute such scares in a modern cinematic landscape. So, from a horror standpoint, the only thing that definitely works in The Invitation is in its heightened presentation to set the mood for a gothic atmospheric surroundings….and that’s it.
Another point of criticism that the movie has is in how the film’s limitations are felt throughout project. What do I mean? Well, there are fleeting moments of where creatures lurk in the darkness and are (presumably) the monstrous beastly forms of the movie’s vampires. Although, these are used sparsely and almost are completely forgotten by the time the picture reaches its climatic in the third act. This, of course, is quite misleading as one would expect some of these monstrous beings would appear in the big finale portion, but they never do, which is quite frustrating and begs the question of why even have presented in the movie at all. Speaking of the film’s climatic third act, the very little action the movie does offer is quite garden variety and somewhat diluted. Of course, I really didn’t expect much from this particular film, yet The Invitation lack of excitement doesn’t help the action pieces that much…. feeling underwhelming in an otherwise underwhelming feature. Even the film’s final moments feel lackluster….. presenting a somewhat “new beginning” for Evie that seems ripped right out of a fan-fiction superhero origin tale. It’s cheesy, a bit pretentious, and not really satisfying.
The cast in The Invitation is bit of a hodgepodge “mixed bag” of results, with some of the acting being a tad “over-the-top” and / or poorly written in their character introductions / development. Perhaps the only character that actually that I really did like and has some potential in the feature was in the main protagonist of Evie Jackson, who is played by actress Natalie Emmanuel. Known for her roles in Game of Thrones, Furious 7, and Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, Emmanuel has certainly become an upcoming actress, especially after playing her character of Missandei on GoT. Thus, it comes as no surprise that Emmanuel who play such character (in the lead role) as Evie Jackson. For her part, she actually does a pretty good job. She’s likeable and easy to root in the movie. Of course, her character is a straightforward and conventional for this particular genre (as mentioned above), so actually “watching” Evie’s journey is a bit formulaic. That being said, Emmanuel is perhaps the most memorable character in all of The Invitation. It’s not her strongest (or favorable) character she’s played, but it makes watching the film tolerable for just her involvement / screen presence.
Beyond Emanuel’s Evie, the next prominent acting talent in the feature would be actor Thomas Doherty, who plays Walter De Ville, a wealthy yet mysterious man who becomes attracted towards Evie’s stay at his mansion. Known for his roles in Gossip Girl, Legacies, and The Lodge, Doherty is just okay the movie. His acting is a little bit “meh” to me and the dialogue lines that he was given were mediocre at best and even quite goofy in a few spots. Plus, he definitely looks like a bad guy, so his character development as coming off as natural “good guy” persona is a up contrive and almost a bad cliché. Heck, his character’s last name is De Ville (come on…. put “two and two” together). Thus, Doherty’s Walter De Ville in The Invitation is a one-note character that’s quite transparent to see through, even though the script tries to add layers to him.
The rest of the cast are pretty much “thinly sketched” characters and are not beyond their initial setup, given the lazy script handling for their respective constructs as well as a few wooden / laughable dialogue moments. Perhaps the only one who actually gave a good “college try” in the movie was actor Sean Pertwee (Event Horizon and Gotham) as the butler to Mr. De Ville’s estate Mr. Field. He seems like the “seasoned” veteran actor on the feature, so one can tell his acting talent is far superior than most of the cast. And yet…. it’s all held back because his character of Mr. Field is just the uptight and grumpy English butler that has become stereotypical in the type casting. Thus, Pertwee never really gets to truly shine in The Invitation, which is a shame. Who actually the worst (personally) is actor Hugh Skinner (Fleabag and Les Miserable), who plays Evie’s cousin Oliver Alexander. Why is he the worst? Well, it’s not much his acting (although his acting is a bit hokey at times and too one-dimensional), but because his involvement in the movie is quickly forgotten after the first act. OF course, his main duty is to bring Evie to De Ville’s manor and that’s pretty much, with the character of Oliver just fading more and more in the background of the film as the narrative takes shape. Thus, why introduce such a character if he’s going to be less and less important.
This also brings the importance of two other characters (Viktoria and Lucy), two females (close to Walter and the De Ville clan) that befriend Evie during her stay at the stately manor and who are played by actresses Stephanie Corneliussen (Mr. Robot and Legion) and Alana Boden (Mr. Selfridge and Ride). While these two characters don’t play a somewhat importance to the main narrative, both Viktoria and Lucy come off as bland caricatures that really don’t do anything beyond being skeptical and elusive to Evie. It just comes off as being shallow, vapid, and just a downright cliché. The remaining characters, including Courtney Taylor (Insecure and Single & Anxious) as Evie’s friend Grace, actress Carol Ann Crawford (High Road and Brookside) as Mrs. Swift, actor Scott Alexander Young (Shadow & Bone and Berlin Station) as Uncle Julius, actor Ian Lindsay (Doctors and British Men Behaving Badly) as Great Uncle Alfred, actor Jeremy Wheeler (The Fear Index and The Crown) as Jonathan Harker, actress Elizabeth Counsell (Unfinished Song and Fame is the Spur) as Mina Harker, make up the minor supporting characters in the movie. While not acted terribly, yet some of these characters are bit “meh” to the plot and really don’t round out the story in a proper way. Heck, some of them could’ve been easily expanded upon or even cut from the feature’s final cut.
Evelyn “Evie” Jackson gets a chance to meet her extended family during a whirlwind destination wedding, but things don’t exactly go according to plan as she confronts dark secrets from the wedding spectators and her host in the movie The Invitation. Director Jessica M. Thompson latest film takes a familiar narrative and spins it on a somewhat new direction by splicing the romances of young love with vampiric nightmares of things that go “bump” in the night. Despite a few flourishes of key elements in the movie as well as strong representation with the feature’s visual aesthetics (production quality, set decorations, costume designs, cinematography) and a likeable performance from Emmanuel, the rest of the picture never rises and just becomes a mundane vampire tale, especially with Thompson’s direction, a predictable and unoriginally script, lackluster scares, unfilled potential in his monsters, and uninteresting “cookie cutter” caricatures. Personally, I really didn’t like this movie. Of course, I liked the idea the whole “Brides of Dracula” angle that the film was trying to go for, but it really felt half-baked and less focused. In combination to its poor writing and mediocre “not-so-scary” scenes, and uninteresting characters, the movie just felt like it was doom from the start. Thus, my recommendation for this movie is a solid “skip it” as there’s really not much to get out of this feature beyond a few snippets here and there. Best just stick to any other iteration of the Brides of Dracula….in either cinematic or novelization. In the end, The Invitation is a pretentious and badly mismanaged movie that wants to be filled with wedded vampire bliss, but ends up with a terrible translation of bloodsucking blandness. Basically…. don’t accept this invitation!
2.0 Out of 5 (Skip It)
Released On: August 26th, 2022
Reviewed On: October 28th, 2022
The Invitation is 104 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for terror, violent content, some strong language, sexual content, and partial nudity