Review by C.J. Bunce
The 2019 movie Ready or Not starred Samara Weaving as a new bride in an atmospheric, Gothic story that doubled as a dark comedy and horror-lite cautionary tale, a fun (recommended) flick about a wedding, about marriage, and marrying into a new family–the dark side of families, the skeletons in the closet. This rare horror sub-genre saw its next entry this year with Sony Pictures’ theatrical release The Invitation (originally titled The Bride). It’s now streaming on Netflix.
So how does it compare to Ready or Not?
This time the bride doesn’t know she’s the bride, and it’s not a comedy. It’s less bloody than many a modern Gothic movie, including Ready or Not and Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak. Unfortunately it’s not as compelling as either of those films, but it has all the Gothic story elements you’d expect so any fan of Gothic horror will find enough here to enjoy.
The Invitation stars Fast & Furious, Army of Thieves, Die Hart, and The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance star Nathalie Emmanuel as a struggling artist who gets a free 23andMe-type DNA test kit while working for a caterer at a posh New York City event. Is it a scam to lure a woman out of the city to become a main course for vampires, or is she going to have this guy for lunch? Sony didn’t hide the gotcha of a vampire show, but it also didn’t reveal the extent of the overlay with one of the earliest entries in the genre, Bram Stoker’s Dracula. This is a Dracula movie.
To say the movie is slow-burning is not quite right–it actually simmers but only goes to boiling in the very last scene, where Ready or Not saw the obvious goal of the movie delivered over the course of the entire movie. The set-up is great–this could have been something better than Get Out, but the overall direction and production doesn’t come together to be scary horror, a twisted mystery, or great Gothic fiction. It’s clear it wasn’t marketed well, beginning with a title and poster showing an invitation that never shows up, other than briefly at a dinner early in the movie. At times it teases some of the creeps of Eyes Wide Shut or The Devil’s Advocate. A more appropriate title would have been The Proposal, because that is the crux of the story.
The cinematography and sets visually tick all the boxes but lack any sizzle, style, or anything audience haven’t seen before. The movie begs for a sweeping, exciting musical score but most of the movie relies on very little music at all. Instead of visual effects for much of the horror, the movie relies on shadows–which actually works–but we never see the beast in the mansion, which is a bit of a letdown. Was the problem in the editing? Probably not. The best of the creative side comes from costume designer Danielle Knox (Resident Evil TV series, Monster Hunter).
Familiar faces in the cast include Gotham’s Sean Pertwee playing basically Alfred again and Disney TV actor Thomas Doherty (a mix of the look of young Sean Connery and Robert Pattinson’s dark Twilight lead). More interesting characters are played by Stephanie Corneliussen (Mr. ROBOT, Legion, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow) and Alana Boden (Mr. Selfridge, Humans, Hawaii Five-O), but the script only scratches the surface of what their story could have been.
A pandemic production, The Invitation was written by Helstrom writer Blair Butler and Jessica M. Thompson (The End) and directed by Thompson, a TV director, which may explain the layout of the film often hinting at a blend of Hallmark channel romance and TV horror. For fans of Gothic horror, this will be an easy choice, even if it doesn’t land at the top of the pack. The Invitation is streaming now on Netflix.