“The Invitation” should be cordially declined

Evie (Nathalie Emmanuel) wanders halls order to discover the dark secrets within. Photo courtesy of Sony.

If you like being beaten bloody by ham-fisted themes and unoriginal social commentary, then “The Invitation” is for you. Like in many stories, vampirism is established as a metaphor for some sort of social disease. In past adaptations of the vampire myth, this concept has strayed into anti-Semitism. “The Invitation” does not go there—instead, it draws a connection between blood-sucking vampires and today’s greedy old rich.

In this 2022 horror, protagonist Evie (Nathalie Emmanuel) is a starving artist in New York City whose only living family—her parents—are dead. That is, until a DNA test reveals that she is related to a line of fabulously rich Englishmen, who invite her to a wedding at their country estate. Evie discovers that wealth treats her well, and quickly acclimates to the new environment. Instead of serving hors d’oeuvres as a fancy cocktail party, she is now receiving them. However, wealth is often maintained by less than ethical means, and bit by bit, Evie discovers dark secrets about her family’s true intentions.

Unfortunately, this story explores the ideas of corruption and greed without even the most rudimentary understanding of nuance. The plot is dominated by a family of ancient vampires that survives by literally eating the help. Maids are given numbers instead of names and sacrificed one by one to a bloodthirsty eldritch horror. The film’s protagonist is bombarded by microaggressions concerning her ethnicity, most of which seem out of place and a caricature of true prejudice. Finally, this eternal all-strong family is so obsessed with maintaining their bloodline that they would rather inbreed than leave their haunted house.

Don’t get me wrong—there is nothing I find more amusing than taking the piss out of rich people. But it has to be done with at least some nuance or thematic complexity. Otherwise, you end up with a story that says little more than “rich people bad”—AKA a shitpost in a new medium.

But, I have to be honest. I did enjoy this movie, but not for the reasons the writers intended. I enjoyed this movie because its aesthetic is pure camp. Every single undead or vampire trope is combined in an outrageous, formless debacle. We have a family with a cursed bloodline living in a hokey Gothic manor lit by 16th century torches. The set of the movie is a hilarious hyper-realistic take on the “Addams Family” house: dark wood, elaborate balconies and balustrades, and a vacant character to a dwelling meant as an ancestral home. Then, there is the immaculately campy feast scene where a maid’s throat is slit at the dinner table and the vampires each drink from a bowl full of blood one by one.

Much of the gore in this film is sensual at the same time, like the slick moves of the movie’s clean-shaven lead vampire, Walter De Ville (Thomas Doherty). And then there is the most iconic scene in the film. The protagonist marches into a dark Gothic cathedral, to be married to an ancient vampire in front of a worshiping crowd straight out of “Rosemary’s Baby”. They are joined in matrimony by a man in an executioner hood, and a maid is literally chained to the wall so that Evie can eat her upon being transformed. Before the night is over, our protagonist will be kicking ass in a bloody torn wedding dress and trashy CGI fangs right out of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”

Besides the protagonist and antagonist of this film, every character in “The Invitation” comes across as flat and cliché. Evie’s friend Grace (Courtney Taylor) exists solely for the protagonist to bounce her ideas off of and sound her inner thoughts to the audience. Grace does not have any independent drive or motivations other than to be “a good friend”. Evie’s servant sacrifices her own life to save Evie because of a bond with a former mistress which is discussed for a whole of thirty seconds. The various corrupt vampires fill many different caricatures of the rich—one woman is a catty backstabber, the other a hopeless romantic ala “Emma” by Jane Austen.

If nothing else, this movie truly does present a thrill. Despite her lack of in-depth characterization, the viewer cannot help but identify with Evie, and the mystery of her situation creates real suspense. Powerful body horror and the squeamish feeling of blood drinking will make you want to look away from the screen. Creepy sound design and a constant sense of urgency won’t let you take your eyes off the screen.

The story of “The Invitation” (2022) may fail to surprise you. The characters may bore you. But the aesthetics of this tale cannot be denied. Choose to pursue this story in the theater, and you will be treated to a bloody tryst with all the technicolor melodrama of a drag show.

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