Runtime: 104 minutes
Director: Jessica M. Thompson
Writer: Blair Butler
Starring: Nathalie Emmanuel, Thomas Doherty, Stephanie Corneliussen, Alana Boden, Hugh Skinner, Sean Pertwee, Courtney Taylor
By Tom Moore
Director Jessica M. Thompson’s sophomore effort, “The Invitation” presents intriguing opportunities for a scary and mysterious vampire flick but rarely capitalizes on them.
The film sees Evie (Nathalie Emmanuel), a young woman whose mother recently passed, head to England after meeting a distant cousin for a wedding to meet other members of her family for the first time. Upon arriving, she feels like a fish out of water with the rich and snobby atmosphere of the estate. However, she stays and even sparks a romantic connection with the young lord of the manor, Walt (Thomas Doherty). However, the longer Evie stays at the estate, the more she notices a greater force at play, and she starts to feel like her presence serves a darker hidden purpose.
No matter how hard the film tries to make Evie’s decision-making and mindset make sense, it’s easily one of the most frustrating and convoluted parts of “The Invitation.” Although Evie is initially characterized as being very aware and protective of herself, she rarely acts that way as she ignores obvious red flags and unnecessarily puts herself in deeper peril. At times, it can be truly baffling as to how she chooses to go on this trip by herself to meet strangers and continue to stay in the house when things are obviously off. From a creepy entity she notices to everyone’s deep obsession with her presence, the film goes too far in testing your suspension of disbelief and it makes Evie look mind-blowingly dumb at times. Hell, at one point she finds literal evidence that shows that Walt has been stalking her online and somehow decides to not only stay, but also solidify their romantic connection.
The film tries to establish a vulnerability within Evie surrounding her longing for family connections and lingering grief, but it’s never enough to justify Evie’s problematic thinking. Evie simply feels like a product of the film’s thin and confused writing that isn’t really sure how to handle its story, mainly because it’s already been spoiled. The story, which is loosely based on the Brides of Dracula in Bram Stoker’s “Dracula,” tries to play itself like a big mystery as you and Evie try to figure out what the family’s real intentions are. Unfortunately, unless you haven’t seen any sort of promotion about this movie or know nothing going in, you’re already very privy to the vampiric answer and it makes the film an immense drag. You almost feel like you’re waiting for the film to get to the answer you know it’s going to give, and the film barely tries to extend itself past basic conclusions. Thus, you’re just left with a barebones vampire story that doesn’t offer much outside of its already revealed reveal.
Honestly though, even if you go in knowing nothing, there still isn’t much there to be surprised about. The vampire answer becomes clear way before anyone is visibly drinking blood and while there are some deeper elements to it that are interesting, the lore simply isn’t deep or unique. The only thing that comes of interest is something Evie does in the film’s finale that makes her able to turn the tables on everyone. Other than that, it’s a pretty standard vampire flick that doesn’t want to expand upon or utilize its lore well. There actually could’ve been an interesting route the film could’ve taken in explaining Evie’s constant reasoning for staying that ties to a notable vampiric power. But it doesn’t outwardly go that way for some reason and doesn’t even touch much on who Walt ends up being, which is a shame because it’s a very notable vampire character.
It’s also sad to say that “The Invitation” doesn’t even have any remarkable scares or bloody moments to please horror fans. There are a couple solid jump scares, but nothing too memorable and it’s always a shame to see a vampire flick lack blood. The kills feel pretty tame overall, and the creature design is sorely lacking originality or creativity. The performances and direction also end up being forgettable and generally give off the same feel of a bland YA novel adaptation.
“The Invitation” is about as generic as you could get for a vampire flick and although it presents plenty of moments and ideas that maybe could’ve work, it rarely brings any of them to life well.