The Invitation ★★★½

There is a delicious and devilish thread of Hitchcockian tension running through Karyn Kusama's "The Invitation." It is tension writ by untrusting glances, notes of unease, and a refusal to accept things for what they are. This tension drives the film and makes Kusama's drama a thrilling, nearly horrific look at the company of acquaintances.

Here there be no spoilers, but Kusama's film revolves around a dinner party peopled by friends, former spouses, and new lovers. Wine flows, and games are played; but, soon, the fete's purpose is revealed. That purpose is secondary to its build up where distrust is sown through word, deed, and history.

The story is minimal. With only a small collection of characters and plot beats, Kusama's drawing room drama covers a limited narrative landscape. However, its emotions and human pulses are large, and the story is able to generate dread, fear, and frightening passions with ease.

The film's physical geography is as tightly controlled as its story. A well-appointed house, its yard, and distant hills make up the drama's arena; and Kusama captures it all in a shadowed richness. Editing adds a subtle propulsiveness to it all, but the cast of characters, through tone of voice and facial expression, conveys the film's harrowing center.

With "The Invitation," Kusama weaves a potent web of dramatic chills and taut, measured excitement. The type of film that builds slowly and layers itself satisfyingly until its expected yet jolting conclusion, "The Invitation" is an effortlessly compelling, smartly constructed, and quietly robust piece of work.

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