Director: Jessica M. Thompson
Writer: Blair Butler and Jessica M. Thompson
Starring: Nathalie Emmanuel, Thomas Doherty, Stephanie Cornelissen, Alana Boden, Courtney Taylor, Hugh Skinner, and Sean Pertwee
If you take a Jane Austen Novel, add some Gothic horror to it, then you get The Invitation. Directed by Jessica M. Thompson, who also co-wrote the script with Blair Butler, the film is a slow-paced horror romance that blends a lot of familiar elements to make something that feels fresh.
Set in the modern day, Evie (Nathalie Emmanuel) is plucked from her downtrodden life in America, after completing a DNA test and finding out that she’s a member of a rich English family. She’s invited to a family wedding, which she reluctantly agrees to attend. Evie finds herself in an English manor that’s filled with dangerous secrets and a mysterious past.
Before we meet Evie, the opening of the film shows an unknown woman committing suicide in the manor that Evie will later be staying. It’s a chilling scene, and one that leaves a lot of questions to be answered. It sets the tone without giving anything away. After that the film turns into a more Austenesque romance as Evie, who is stuck working in catering while wanting to be an artist, finds out she is part of a larger family. Her mother has recently died of cancer, and this leaves her without any family, until Oliver (Hugh Skinner) appears in her life, and offers her an alternative. Once she arrives in England she meets the Lord of the land, Walter (Thomas Doherty) and the couple start to fall in love.
While their romance is full of whimsy, the film never tries to trick you into thinking that this is a period drama. Evie, when going to get water at night, witnesses a strange ritual with the cleaning staff, there’s a dark and foreboding atmosphere even before we get to see what’s actually happening. There are short scenes of the servants being killed by shadowy figures, that hint at the later revelations. Combined with a few jump scares, you know there’s something more sinister beyond Walter’s charming persona.
The big reveal is really great and it’s both obvious and a surprise. Sadly, afterwards the film feels really dragged out and loses all the terror it was building. It’s not a scary film, beyond a couple of jump scares, but the atmosphere up until the ending is tense and haunting. Once it’s revealed that’s lost. There’s a pointless scene where Evie tries to escape, which only serves as a nod towards Bram Stoker’s Dracula as she finds characters named Jonathan and Mina Harker who she thinks will help her. Apart from being a nice reference, it pads out a film that’s bordering on being too long by that point.
All of the build up in The Invitation is superb. There’s a great sense of growing terror, and the mystery plays out nicely. The ending just doesn’t quite make the landing into greatness.
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