Monday, March 21, 2016

Why I'm not going to review The Invitation (2015) BAMcinema Fest 2015

This piece was written almost a year ago- no seriously it was- Hence the BAMcinema Fest 2015 in the title.  The reason why it took a year was that BAM expressly asked that no film playing at cinema fest be reviewed until it was released to theaters. That sentiment was re-expressed by all of the PR people I talked to who said  I was not to review the films until the theatrical release date. That was fine because it made my work easier since I didn't have to write up more than a paragraph for each film (It also resulted in my not doing full reviews for several films that could have used a friendly piece such as the awesome PERVERTS PARK)

Anyway what happened with THE INVITATION was that I  contacted the distributor who said no review until theatrical release. I asked when that was and they told me "the end of the first quarter of 2016" aka this March. I thought about posting this piece because it's not a real review, but I thought better of it, I agreed to limit my thoughts short of capsules until the release, despite many outlets already having reviewed the film,  after seeing the film either at a public screening or at a less restrictive festival (this film has played just about everywhere). And because I'm true to my word I've held off until it hits theaters- which is this Friday. 

Here is the piece exactly how I wrote it back in May of last year.

Warning there are spoilers and snarky comments ahead.

I can't rightly review the film THE INVITATION because I was at a disadvantage when I saw it in that I was in the theater when it was screening...

...okay that was overly snarky and not quite right, I was only in the theater for part of it's running time since I left for a long while so that I could continue making notes in the light of the lobby. I made several pages of notes in the theater and then  I began to write a very long essay (near rant) about the film and how it is perfect example of why some films don't work, they don't create a believable world in which to have things operate- which is par for the course for films like this.

The plot of THE INVITATION has Will and his new girl friend driving to his ex-wife's house for a dinner party. Years earlier their son died and their relationship fractured. Will walled himself up and Eden, his wife went off the rails and completely disappeared, Now she's back with a new boyfriend and they are holding a dinner part that's part of a trendy happening that's all the rage (more on that in a minute). Will is understandably moody, but things get down right ominous when they hit a coyote on the way to the house. Once there he begins to see his dead son and have flashbacks to the bad times.  Things get weird when Eden's new beau welcomes a friend from Mexico and locks the doors behind him. And if you aren't scribbling your way to the end when several minutes later it's revealed that this is all part of  a new movement  aka "cult" you haven't been watching movies over the last thirty years.

What burned my ass and sent me out to the lobby was none of this feels real, None of it. From the very outset the film is trying to manipulate our feelings and what we are seeing with out ever setting a base line. How can you fuck around with reality when the film never gives us a reality to mess with? Even the characters seem more like cardboard cut outs then real people.

Nominally this is set in our world and our head space but in the opening instant the film subverts that because Will hits the coyote. The event is used to set a mood more than anything else, but it just feels fake,  We should be relating to Will but we can't get a bead on him because we have no base line for him. We do know he's going to his old house where tragedy happens and we know he's flashing back and seeing "ghosts" but we have nothing to gauge if this is natural state or just the state of the moment because it's stressful. On some level the film wants us to question whats real but at the same time you know from the first instant that the wife (who looks like a vampire from a Hammer film), her beau (and the cult leader) are just bad news.

What is the  reality of the film? Its never clear.

The problem is the film's reality fragments as the secrets are revealed and people begin to die. The reasoning behind it is utter nonsense-it has to do with a death cult that is killing people across the city/country/world on the same night. Its a horror movie trope that rarely if ever works.

The problem of grand evil conspiracies like this is that you have to believe that pretty much everyone other than you is evil for these sort of things to work. The trope almost always fails for me since it requires to big a suspension of disbelief, I don't believe everyone is evil not do I think grand conspiracies of this sort could be kept secret.  The logic here makes less sense than the logic in RACE WITH THE DEVIL or the TV series THE FOLLOWING (Season 1)both of which suppose grand conspiracies of death. I could kind of bought the death cult thing if it was one dinner party but the whole thing with multiple events had me shaking my head- I ducked back into the film for this?

This is a world that exists purely for effect, where things happen because the director and writers want it to. You can feel the construction if we do X the audience will feel Y. The problem is they don't move the plot fast enough and we can see all of the wheels driving the film forward. Its not the way to make a compelling film.

The notion of what makes a viable film world has been greatly discussed topic recently.  From my mammoth interview with John Wildman and Justina Walford about their vastly superior LADIES OF THE HOUSE to the minutes prior to the film I saw immediately before THE INVITATION when Hubert and I had a long discussion about world building in films,and MAD MAX ROAD FURY in particular the importance of creating a real has been a hot topic.

In the third part of my interview with Wildman and Walford we discussed how you can't have things happen out of nowhere.  You have to remain true to the rules that you set down. As part of the debate about having something happen just because it looks cool John said the following about how he and Justina create a world for their horror to operate in:

We do go through that debate on things where you create a world...Oftentimes with genre films you're creating a world, and you have your own rules and regulations in that world.

And sometimes those rules and regulations stretch the imagination or, you know beg that kind of, thing. But, as much as possible, you want to at least go, "Well, it's because of this," then you go, "Well, science doesn't really bear that out," and we go, "The science in this movie does!"

You know, you at least have to do that,

You can't do things that just sort of happen for the hell of it.

In talking with Hubert about MAD MAX ROAD FURY we discussed how that film set up a world that seems plausible at the start and then stays with in the rules it sets up. Nothing happens that seems out of place. You're watching a film in a world different than our own but which feels completely real.  Even though there is no exposition and almost noting is explained, everything works. You have no problem believing anything on screen-a fact which is helped by the characters believing it alland the filmmakers not changing the rules at any point.

The most important thing about those films is that they set up a reality at the start and then play with it. In LADIES we find that there are cannibals lurking just out of reach- and in MAX our hero is brought from our world into Wonderland. The films start out in a real world and then messes with them.  You have to start with a baseline and go from there. Even Quentin Dupieux's mind bending REALITY which plays with it from start to finish sets a real world in the opening seconds, which it then changes moments later with the finding of a video cassette in a boar.

THE INVITATION is jiggling things from the start to no good effect. Everything is off to start so the twists and turns and odd behavior of everyone at the dinner party just feels wrong. Everyone is behaving stupidly...

...and what's worse the plot makes no sense and involves character behavior that mean zero.

If Will is so un-nerved by the mere thought of being at the house why did he go?
Why didn't anyone blink about the door being locked when the reason to do so was so clearly a lie?

There's more, I could question everything that happens, but it's not worth pulling the film apart.

To be honest the film does generate a certain amount of low level tension but that's just indicative of the set up. Until you know the stupid reason for everything the fact that it could be anything- even a good reason you hadn't thought of keeps a level of frission happening.

Of course once you know what it's all about the film collapse as you scream "Really? REALLY?!!" at the screen.

As the film ended I polled everyone who was walking past me at the press screening, some people just huffed.  Many replied it was "interesting"in a tone that indicated something different, and pretty much everyone said it was too long for what it was and not worth wading through the 90 plus minutes to get to the end.

I wouldn't waste my time reviewing the film so you shouldn't waste your time or money seeing it.

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