Smoothie reviews the new Vampire horror from Australian director Jessica M. Thompson.
Well, that’s a shame.
Yeah, I’m kind of jumping ahead here, but I honestly could leave this review at just those four words without fear of being accused of dishonesty or inadequately capturing the feeling burning in my gut as the lights came up on The Invitation.
Nonetheless, let’s see if we can go into a bit more detail! Both out of a sense of journalistic integrity and obligation to the film’s potential. Because this movie had TONNES of potential, and I was genuinely excited for the ride as I entered the cinema.
Our generation has a unique relationship with Vampires. The Nosferatu-esque Gothic Vampire has all but disappeared from the pop culture lexicon, relegated to the same category populated by fellow staples of early Hollywood monster movies. A category we’ll simply refer to as, “not scary.”
It’s been a very, very long time since Vampires were genuinely scary.
But then along came The Invitation: a new take on the Dracula story from acclaimed Australian director Jessica M. Thompson.
The Invitation has a simple but profound difference to its predecessors. Namely, focussing not on the titular villain and his encounters with an endless string of everymen, but rather his relationship to his brides.
Suddenly this shift in perspective and the darkness of what is, in essence, a relationship based on power, abuse and fear, not only could sow the seeds of a poignant and compelling film, but could do what hasn’t been done in decades:
It could have made Vampires scary again.
Our protagonist is Evie, a struggling artist trying to make her way in New York who suddenly discovers she has long lost, aristocratic family in England. Suspicious, but desperate to fill the void left by the death of her mother, Evie travels to meet them all at a lavish wedding hosted by the alluring lord of the house. A whirlwind romance soon gives way to a dark plot and all-out battle for survival.
As I write this, I’m becoming to grow suspicious that the filmmakers weren’t actually interested in making a Vampire movie, rather a more grounded story of a dark relationship.
And this would have been great! The characters themselves had plenty of intrigue and the themes of class, racism and sexism would have worked perfectly in either scenario.
However, this indecision resulted in a movie that couldn’t decide what exactly it wanted to be.
The horror scenes felt stapled on, almost as if they were lifted from a completely different movie with a completely different story. Actually, until the third act, they actually are from a completely different story.
Periodically we’re “treated” a scene with an unseen monster stalking and ultimately attacking a series of nameless employees whose entire purpose both in universe and in narrative is to remind us that this is supposed to be a horror movie.
But these scenes do absolutely nothing to build tension and instead stand in stark tonal contrast to the real movie occurring around them.
But of course, they still took up plenty of runtime leaving the proper story underdeveloped and unconvincing.
The most disappointing element of this is the relationship between Evie and the women who will be revealed to be her fellow brides (I would have warned you about spoilers but c’mon, we know exactly who these women are the moment we meet them.)
These relationships should have been the core of the movie! Three women all cursed to the same fate, married to the same monster.
The Invitation at its best when the brides are on screen together, but these moments are often fleeting and lacking depth. There’s just no time, we have obligatory horror scenes to get to!
Even so, I still don’t believe that these elements had to be in conflict with each other. There’s a version of this movie where everything works in perfect harmony, creating a compelling and horrifying piece of cinema.
But The Invitation isn’t it.
It’s out there somewhere though. Don’t let my disappointment in this film convince you that the idea itself isn’t great.
We’ve waited a very long time for Vampires to be scary again, we can wait a little bit more.
The Invitation is in cinemas now.
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