The Invitation is in theaters now.
Despite the message sent by Sony’s imaginary marketing campaign for Jessica M. Thompson’s The Invitation, it’s not dead on arrival. While identifiable inferior to the movies, it’s easily comparable, The Invitation is spookier, brighter, and more atmospheric than the details of the trailers. Shades of Radio Silence’s Shotgun Wedding in the 2019 Masterful Ready or Not and countless sweltering erotic vampire tragedies ring truest, though in inspiration, never in recreation. The Invitation suffers from split personalities as the vampire elements fade away for the film’s younger adult midsection, long enough where there’s never a seamless amalgamation of excitement and hungry neck-biting. It’s not Bram Stoker’s Dracula, but few are – The Invitation lands squarely in the ranks of almost forgotten vampire cinema.
Game of Thrones actress Nathalie Emmanuel stars as Evie, a ceramics-loving parentless New York caterer who uses an at-home DNA test to locate and connect with her English second cousin, parent Oliver Alexander (Hugh Skinner). He insists they meet while he’s visiting New York for work, then demands that she drive him back to their homeland for an elaborate country wedding to meet his unspoken parents. . Evie agrees, goes first class to a mansion overseen by Lord Walter (Thomas Doherty) and is pampered by his clan Alexander. However, there are rules such as no-go zones and no wandering outside rooms after dark – red flags for any horror fan.
Ambitions for Thompson’s The Invitation – no connection to Karyn Kusama’s murderous dinner party movie of the same name — are like throwing darts at a PG-13 horror mood board. Anonymity hides monstrous characters of vampires feeding on sacrificial servers behind midnight black shadows, never to reveal more wicked creature designs. Evie’s attraction to the heartbroken, regal Walter is meant to excuse the perilous advancement of Thompson and co-screenwriter Blair Butler’s screenplay. The invite bounces between basement feeding sessions steeped in James Wan-style shadow play and romantic chivalry as Walter lies on top of a thicker-than-bisque billionaire hunk – never reaching the ultimate balance like, say, how The boy next door erotic sensations packages. At PG-13, there’s only a few each Thompson can run anyway.
Luckily, the cast all seem to understand their missions, from Sean Pertwee as grumpy butler Mr. Fields to Stephanie Corneliussen as Evie’s immediate socialite rival Viktoria. Emmanuel and Thomas Doherty are raunchy, passed out, and so, so hot in a very teenage Dracula fanfiction way that works, with a special caption to make Doherty feel like the eye idol. The Invitation doesn’t rewrite vampire fantasies or indulgent explorations of eternal damnation, but the actors frequently chew on out-of-stock “Spooky Manor” sets. Hugh Skinner as the “nice guy” with uncanny generosity, Alana Boden as Evie’s only companion with a curious fixation – they all embellish the obvious enough to elevate her where possible .
When The Invitation struggles, he swings and misses without much strategy. An ineffectual finale breaks through Evie’s vampiric gauntlet despite sturdier build-up material coaxing sultry patriarchal warfare from outward paranoias proven accurate. The visual effects as fire spreads across the elaborate and priceless realm are wonky at best, surprisingly impractical at worst. These excessive moments sell the camp as the evil vampires suck on the legs of the victims, licking their blood soaked skin with that almost orgasmic pleasure on their faces, but there are also countless misses who forget the stimulation or the experiences of global horror. Undead nuptial cat fights, boogeyman bedroom frights, and champagne toasts over slit throats all sound delightfully obscene – but Thompson lacks that salacious extra gear found by Neil Jordan (Interview with the Vampire) or Tony Scott (The Hunger).