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By midlandsmovies, Oct 16 2019 12:00PM

The Invitation (2016) Dir. Karyn Kusama


Logan Marshall-Green (Prometheus, in case it drives you mad like it did me) plays Wil in this new thriller-drama set around a strange reunion dinner party in the Hollywood Hills.


We open with Wil and his girlfriend Kira driving to the home of Wil's ex-wife Eden and her husband David along with a host of friends for a long overdue catch up.


The hosts are a married couple who disappeared for two years at a grief support group abroad but have returned to reunite with their friends. Wil and Eden still have unresolved issues over the accidental death of their son, but this is put aside to enjoy the evening with a familiar group of friends - some old and a few new, including Sadie and Pruit, whom they met at the support retreat.


Despite the warm welcome, Wil relives his past angst throughout the house, remembering his ex-wife's attempted suicide whilst finding more pills and wondering why doors are locked. The film creates an immense atmosphere of dread and awkwardness, none more so when the happy couple share a video of a terminally ill woman passing away during their stay at the retreat.


The uncomfortableness continues as they play a game of "dare" which results in Pruitt (a fantastic turn by John Carroll Lynch of Zodiac fame) admiting to a past crime he's now forgiven himself for.


Despite their shock, Pruitt expresses regret and explains how the support group helped him deal with his pain whilst Wil's paranoia continues to increase. The film captures an atmosphere of intense claustrophobia as the guests are huddled together in rooms but whether this is out of choice or not is the question the movie poses.


Increasing irrational accusations from Wil about his hosts' intentions are excused as a result of his emotional fragility over the death of his son and the film keeps the audience guessing as to why the guests are here - something sinister, or is it to deal with unresolved issues from their pasts.


The film probes themes of mistrust, grief and loss and its achievement lies in not letting the viewer - as a guest themselves - get too comfortable within the house. A trail of circumstantial evidence - a bottle of pills, an unattended laptop, glasses of wine - are merely breadcrumbs to the film's subsequent thrilling reveal.


The final act turns the screws up for the viewer as secrets are exposed and a sudden twist of events leads to darkly tragic conclusions. Although the film is almost entirely filmed within the anxious environment of this lavish gathering, a final shot implicates the wider ramifications of the proceedings.


Sinister and slow-building, The Invitation is one of those films that rarely get made these days - a mid-budget thriller with a great premise and well-executed. It also reminded me of the thrills of the "unknown threat", covered in indie sci-fi flick Coherence (2013) which was similarly set around a middle-class American dinner party.


Director Karyn Kusama has got nearly everything right with the film, getting great performances out of a good mixed cast, as well as filling her dark shots with trepidation, terror and a fair amount of fear. One tiny flaw were the character motivations - at times I was shaking my head in disbelief about their choices - but this was a one-off and towards the end I inwardly cheered as a guest got what they deserved.


Expertly crafted by Kusama, The Invitation creates anxiety through a superb central performance by Logan Marshall-Green, and is an alarming achievement where nothing is what it seems. Filled with fear and a few frightful revelations, this is one party I recommend you RSVP to on its release.


9/10


Michael Sales


The Invitation arrives on BluRay on 4th November 2019


Special Features

Commentary with Director Karyn Kusama and Writers Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi

The Making of The Invitation

Going Back Home - an interview with Director Karyn Kusama

There is Nothing to be Afraid of - an interview with Producer Nick Spicer

Tonight's the Night - an interview with Writers Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi

Playing Sadie - an interview with Actor Lindsay Burdge

English Subtitles for the Hard of Hearing

By midlandsmovies, Dec 13 2018 03:28PM



Venom (2018) Dir. Ruben Fleischer


Upgrade (2018) Dir. Leigh Whannell


A two-for-one double review for films that have a two-for-one protagonist as we see Tom Hardy and Tom Hardy-lookalike Logan Marshall-Green both appearing in high-concept action films where they are fused with powers they end up speaking with.


First up, Venom sees Tom Hardy’s roving reporter Eddie Brock get ‘infected’ by an alien symbiote to create a powerful anti-hero who, violently, is trying to do the right thing against Riz Ahmed’s evil scientist. Broad strokes are the name of the game here as we get the superhero origin story with evil genius, concerned ex-girlfriend and transformation scenes so by-the-numbers the plot could have been designed on an abacus. Michelle Williams plays Brock’s girlfriend in a wasted role and the film is astonishing in how it can take three of the best actors working today and give them literally nothing to work with at all.


A selection of so-so action sequences are dotted throughout and the film improves immensely when Venom finally appears as a foul-mouthed monster that argues with his host Brock. But sadly this is far too late in the film and the CGI Venom design is only about 5% better than its 2007 iteration in Spider-Man 3. And, in all honesty, had me wishing I was watching that film at times instead. Sadly the director Fleischer has never been able to recreate that rush of fun and horror from his first film Zombieland, the tone of which is solely needed here in his latest film.


So moving on, earlier this year we also had another action body horror in the form of Upgrade. Logan Marshall-Green, who funnily enough is already in the MCU Spidey-verse with a brief appearance in Spider-Man: Home-Coming, stars as Grey Trace (which sounds a bit like Topher Grace who was Venom in Raimi's three-quel) who after being paralysed in a brutal attack – which also sees his girlfriend killed – is implanted with a bionic chip. This AI called STEM is designed by Elon Musk, no wait, Eron Keen (Harrison Gilbertson) and is surgically inserted into Trace’s body which allows him to regain control of his limbs.


STEM then “speaks” into his mind directly and the two (?) go on a revenge spree to serve justice to those who attacked him. The AI quickly learns vicious fighting techniques and before long, the duo are picking off the assailants. The film however takes its ridiculous premise far too serious at times. In the hands of a sci-fi auteur like Paul Verhoeven Upgrade could have mixed the balance better by giving the whole film a satirical bite. As it is, the fight scenes are fun but sparse and the dramatic sequences dull and bland. With the film spiralling into a confusing high-tech plot, the narrative “discoveries” can be seen from a mile away and frankly any time when the film begins its exploration into society/tech-fears it lost momentum.


So, with Venom’s (frankly unbelievable) $852.7 million box office takings and Upgrade’s innovative but flawed genre goals, somewhere between the two films a good movie may have emerged from the Hardy/Marshall-Green soup. If I was forced to pick I slightly preferred the originality of Upgrade’s idea but with that worldwide gross, I know which flick we’ll be seeing more of in the inevitable sequel which is a shame.


Venom 6/10


Upgrade 6.5/10


Mike Sales


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