Wed | May 31, 2023

‘The Invitation’ underwhelms

Published:Friday | September 9, 2022 | 12:07 AMDamian Levy/Gleaner Writer
Thomas Doherty and Nathalie Emmanuel in Screen Gems’ ‘The Invitation’.
Thomas Doherty and Nathalie Emmanuel in Screen Gems’ ‘The Invitation’.
Nathalie Emmanuel shines but ‘The Invitation’ proves underwhelming.
Nathalie Emmanuel shines but ‘The Invitation’ proves underwhelming.

Who among us hasn’t fantasised about a whole new life? To be whisked away from the problems of the day to day, and flung into a whirlwind of adventure and intrigue. For Nathalie Emmanuel’s Evie, the transition is from struggling waitress to royal heritage. A simple DNA test reveals her long-lost connection, and after a brief dinner with a stranger who claims to be a distant cousin, she accepts an invitation to visit her filthy rich family.

At the very least, Evie is relatable. She’s a woman searching for meaning, so she seeks out her family after the death of her mother. She’s used to playing it safe, but when opportunity knocks, she throws caution to the wind. For once, she hopes to get out of her own way, especially when a handsome suitor pays her attention. Evie may be easy to understand, but it’s Emmanuel’s involved performance that makes her feel alive.

Evie’s entrance into the lifestyle of the rich and pompous is as Get Out as it gets, complete with the sceptical best friend frequently FaceTimed at the first hint of suspicion. Even Evie’s would-be romantic companion is called out for playing a type, but never actually does anything differently after it’s pointed out. The Invitation feels derivative to the point of toothlessness.

Yet Emmanuel somehow brings the film back to centre, coupled with the movie’s gothic atmosphere and suspense. There’s a scene in which she’s forcibly unnerved during a manicure, which will certainly have several members of the audience rethinking any upcoming nail appointments. The movie’s graphic and haunting sequences are effective, but it can’t be overstated just how essential Nathalie Emmanuel’s performance is.

It doesn’t shy away from the aspects of race and class that define the characters. Evie’s position as a working-class black woman is a pearl-clutching revelation to many of her new family, but The Invitation hardly gives these issues a second thought after they’re brought up. The film’s inattention to the dynamics at play leave something to be desired, and by the time of the film’s gleefully chaotic climax it feels woefully empty. Without it’s lead, the film is a by-the-numbers horror flick, with some intriguing visuals, and a somewhat underdeveloped script. Emmanuel makes it worth watching, but if you declined The Invitation, you wouldn’t be missing all that much.

Rating: Catch It On Cable

Damian Levy is a film critic and podcaster for Damian Michael Movies.