Karyn Kusama’s slyly terrifying “The Invitation” is, unexpectedly, a haunted-house movie.
The home in question — an elegant, modern pile in the Hollywood Hills — definitely has ghosts, but not the bump-in-the-night sort we’re used to seeing onscreen.
Eden (Tammy Blanchard) and her new husband, David (Michiel Huisman), have invited a group of old friends for dinner, including Eden’s ex-husband, Will (Logan Marshall-Green), and his girlfriend, Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi). Will, who once lived in the house, hasn’t been back for a long time. It holds very dark memories for him.
Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi’s screenplay takes awhile to clarify exactly what those memories are, and for much of “The Invitation” we’re simply watching a dinner party, albeit one more awkward than most.
Is there something creepy about the fact that David locks the front door, or is he just worried about break-ins? Is it strange that David and Eden are eager to tell the group about their participation in what sounds like a cult, or is this just typical party conversation?
“They’re a little weird,” admits one guest to a worried Will, “but this is L.A. They’re harmless.”
Kusama (“Girlfight,” “Jennifer’s Body”) ratchets up the tension expertly; we, like Will, become increasingly uncomfortable, seeing evil omens everywhere. The house, with its railed staircases and dark corners, begins to feel airless; a splash of red wine alarmingly imitates blood; a cake knife looks like a weapon.
One frightened guest leaves early; you might wish you could join her during the film’s final act. The horror is all the more effective for having sneaked up on us quietly: The memories in this house, it seems, can’t yet rest.
(At Alamo Drafthouse.)
Not rated. Time: 1:40.