By Jonathon Sharp

The moodiness is real in Karyn Kusama’s unnerving psychological thriller, The Invitation. Brilliantly, the filmmaker taps into the weirdness inherent in those coastal-growing, pseudo-scientific lifestyle cults, showing us an L.A. dinner party that’s a nightmare on multiple levels.

First off, our main man, Will (Logan Marshall-Green), is seeing ex-wife, Eden (Tammy Blanchard), for the first time in a couple years at this get-together. She invited him to their old place, and she’s with another guy, David (Micheil Huisman of Game of Thrones fame). In a flowing, white dress, the woman seems renwed, all smiles, 100 percent sunshine. Will, who has a new partner of his own, is bugged by his ex’s attitude. At first, he just seems like a curmudgeon, but, eventually, we realize that in that house their young son died in a violent incident involving a baseball bat — something that still traumatizes him. He can’t imagine how Eden could just let something like that go.

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As this party gets going, the wine flows but the conversation doesn’t. It’s made much worse when Eden and David start explaining their recent quasi-religious retreat to Mexico. With everyone gathered around a coffee table, they talk about finding happiness in life by accepting death. Fair enough. But then they show their guests, who already think this stuff is pretty weird, a strange promotional video in which someone actually dies. It’s at about this time we start to wonder about why two of the guests, who one one seems to know, are so weird. Also, wasn’t that one girl’s boyfriend supposed to be here by now? And why does David keep the doors locked?

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On paper, this party is uber-strange, but still Kusama pushes us to question the main character, whose perspective we can’t help but take. Perhaps, the film suggests, Will is the one who needs to move on, who needs to come to grips with what happened to his son, to just chill out and go along with this ex-wife’s new take on life. This is a brilliant move on the part of the scriptwriters, and the director gets us to more than just consider this perspective. Eventually, though, Will is vindicated.

Then the blood is spilled. The Invitation‘s climax is intense and, on the whole, satisfying. Even though the film’s final shot borders on eyeroll-ishly over the top, the detail isn’t so bad as to ruin the deliciously uncertain and creepy hour-and-a-half that came before it. Indeed, Kusama’s film is engrossing and stylish, unnerving in such a way as to make L.A. luxury and all New Age-tinged talk seem suspicious and sinister. Even if the plot, when considered from a distance, is far-fetched, it’s the atmosphere created here that counts. Kusama gets us to believe, and in this way The Invitation succeeds.

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The Invitation is playing at the St. Anthony Main Theatre.

Jonathon Sharp