One thing we don’t get quite enough of these days is a good, gothic horror romance movie…
…Earlier this year, director Jessica M. Thompson gave fans a chance to quench their thirst for that craving with The Invitation, a sinister love story where nothing is quite as it seems. Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has now unleashed the film on Blu-ray with both the theatrical and unrated cut and wouldn’t you know it, the unrated cut is the superior film.
Written by Blair Butler, The Invitation follows Evie (Nathalie Emmanuel), a starving artist who recently lost her mother, her last known family member. After taking an ancestry DNA test, she is contacted by her long-lost cousin, Oliver (Hugh Skinner), only to discover she is descended from royalty in the UK. Oliver invites her to an upcoming wedding as an opportunity to meet the family, but Evie gets more than a bloodline reunion when she falls for the unrelated owner of the swanky castle where the party is being held, Walter De Ville (Thomas Doherty). The deeper Evie falls into this romantic dream, the more she realizes there is an evil lurking underneath the surface of it all.
Thompson’s film is full of deception, not just for its characters but the audience as well. A Jane Austen meets Bram Stoker’s Dracula narrative, The Invitation sinks its teeth into the fanciful nature of clichéd love stories before sucking the life out of them to demonstrate no, not every romance is “perfect”. Poor, alone and in desperate need of excitement in her life, Evie is easy prey for fantasy. From the discovery of Evie’s past to the lush setting and Walter’s devastating charm—it’s impossible not to swoon over Doherty—Thompson plays on familiar tropes that allows us to feel as if we’ve stepped into a romance novel. If it weren’t for the occasional scare, you wouldn’t know this was a horror film. At least not until the zero to sixty shocker of a third act.
Everything about The Invitation seems like a dream come true. And it is. Evie senses something is off from the moment she arrives at the castle (thanks to Sean Pertwee’s unsettling performance as the head butler, Renfield), but it’s all so glamorous that it’s difficult for she and the viewer to separate reality from fiction. Some of that is due to Autumn Eakin’s rich cinematography, Felicity Abbott’s eye-popping production design and Danielle Knox’s breathtaking costume design. The look of The Invitation is simply magical. But it’s Doherty’s scene-stealing performance that reels Evie and us in with enough charm to make the Devil’s knees buckle. You can’t blame Evie for becoming ensnared in this whimsical trap. The running theme during the disc’s featurette which introduces the cast, “The Wedding Party”, is that everyone on set agreed Doherty is mesmerizing.
While most romances would lead to “prince charming” snatching the woman away from her life to come be his trophy wife and live happily ever after or some nonsense, The Invitation is “a story about smashing the patriarchy,” says Thompson in the featurette, “Till Death Do Us Part”. While this feature is about the gorgeous design of the film, it also provides a deeper discussion on the theme of duality prevalent all throughout. This is perhaps the most interesting feature on the disc as it digs into the various inspirations, with Thompson describing the setting as a “’Great Gatsby’ looking world,” while clawing into the idea that if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Each and every man in the film is a slithering snake hiding in human flesh, men who view women as mere objects meant to be owned, not loved. Within every image throughout the film is a hidden side, such as the fact that floral decorations fill many spaces, but with flowers that are dying, or the memorable banquet scene in which the food isn’t quite as fresh as it first appears. All of this to say that love can be deceiving, especially when it involves a rich white dude telling you what you want to hear.
That theme of duality hurts the film just a bit in the sense that it can often feel like we’re watching two different movies, a romance and a completely separate tale of horror going on underneath Evie’s nose while hardly involving her as various maids are stalked by fanged creatures, but the horror itself is, at least for the most part, effective. In the featurette “Lifting the Veil”, which expands on the various ways in which The Invitation is an adaptation on Stoker’s Dracula but from a female perspective, Thompson describes herself as a horror fan, declaring “horror to me is sacred”. The unrated cut makes that damn clear. Though what’s missing from the theatrical cut may only add up to about an extra minute or so of footage, Thompson makes it count with a few extra moments of delicious blood-letting as well as an extended love scene that should please the “make horror sexy again” crowd. Throw in Dara Taylor’s titillating score and a few good scares, and the unrated cut of The Invitation is an entertaining twist on Stoker’s novel with some bite.
As for the bonus features, the behind-the-scenes featurettes are all informative, while the deleted/extended scenes don’t provide much of anything worthwhile. The alternate ending does give an extra dose of horror, but is less satisfying than the girl boss scene in the final cut. I can’t help but wish there was a director’s commentary on the disc, since it’s obvious Thompson had a wonderful vision for the film and I’d love to hear her get to articulate for longer than a few minutes. But for anyone who enjoyed the theatrical cut of The Invitation, this disc is worth sinking your teeth into for the unrated version alone.
The Invitation is now available on digital and Blu-ray from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. Check out the full list of special features below.
BLU-RAY™ AND DIGITAL
By Matt Konopka