You know, when a bad horror movie comes out in August, I have to wonder what the reason for its release is. Obviously, it’s to try and churn out some kind of a profit, but I’m asking if the film is attempting to capitalize on August being a traditionally dead month for movies. Why not release it here to die, or is it because people are starting to get into the spooky mood and need something, anything, to satisfy their early Halloween bloodlust? Regardless of the reason, it doesn’t change the fact that The Invitation is both a bad horror movie and a movie that no one would have ever seen if it were released at any other point of the year.
I know I shouldn’t be surprised when a studio churns out a bad horror movie since they’re often cheap and easy to make with a low bar to reach in order to be considered profitable, but could they at least put some effort into things? The Invitation is one of the most conventional and dullest horror movies I’ve seen in quite some time and I struggle to think of any point during the movie’s runtime I felt engaged with what was happening. Or entertained. Or alive.
Director: Jessica M. Thompson
Release Date: August 26, 2022 (Theatrical)
From the studio that brought you the vampire classic, Morbius, comes yet another vampire story, this time directly inspired by Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Evie (Nathalie Emmanuel) is a struggling artist who just recently lost her mom and now has no family of her own. After acquiring a DNA test while on a catering gig, she takes it only to find out that she has family in England. After meeting up with her English cousin, Oliver (Hugh Skinner), she accepts his offer to travel to England and meet the rest of the family, who are all attending a wedding for a family friend. It’s here where she also meets the handsome lord of the manor she’s staying at, Walt (Thomas Doherty), and the two fall in love. But oh no! He’s actually a vampire and the wedding Evie’s attending turns out to be her own to give Walt immortality! How will Evie escape it?
The Invitation, for some reason, doesn’t seem to understand that it’s a horror film. The film focuses on the romance of Evie and Walt and strictly cordons off those scenes from any of the horror elements. When the movie wants to be scary, it forces characters into spooky environments for no good reason other than the movie needs to meet a horror quota I guess. Most of the horror in the first two-thirds of the movie comes at the expense of five maids, who are frequently taken one by one by the head butler and put into places where vampires can jump out, go boo at them, and kill them off-screen. They don’t have any character or personality behind them other than to be murdered. The film even goes so far as to just assign them numbers, not names, so we’re acutely aware that they’re just part of the body count.
When some horrific imagery does show up, it’s hard to even tell what’s going on. These scenes are either poorly lit with even the vampires being too hard to distinguish or are intentionally blurred and made difficult to see. One early scene takes place in a room with flickering lights to add to the spooooooooooky atmosphere. Then, when the shoe drops and Evie realizes that her boy toy is a murderous monster, the camera lurches around like it’s drunk, blurring in and out of the violent murders on screen and having intense close-ups of Evie’s face reacting to it all. The movie doesn’t want you to see its horror, so what does it want us to see?
I suppose the answer is the romance between our two leads, but there’s nothing there for us to sink our teeth into. We know that Walt is hiding something and the film’s opening scene shows that something nefarious is happening at his manor, so we know not to trust him at all the moment he appears. Sure, Walt and Evie do have some chemistry together just based on the actors chosen to play them, but the script gives them nothing to work with. Just general romantic pleasantries and teasing that we’ve seen done better.
For a movie that’s so heavily inspired by Dracula, I can see the approach of trying to make the film more of a horror romance, as vampires have developed a more romantic modern connotation. The film even has subtle nods and winks to the original novel, like Walt intending to have three vampire wives and his general disdain for technology. The problem is that the film stops being a romance after Walt reveals his deception. If the romance continued, with Evie trying to decide if she wants to sacrifice her humanity for love, I probably would have been more interested since that would be a fun direction to take the story. But no, it instead becomes a thriller where Evie tries to escape and we’ve seen this done before but better.
It doesn’t help that the film gives us the most generic depiction of vampires possible. After the revelation of Walt’s deception, which comes almost an hour into this hour and 40-minute movie, one of his brides says that there are a lot of misconceptions about vampires and that there’s a lot more to them than just what’s in books. The film then actively contradicts that with one character telling Evie that the only way to kill a vampire is through decapitation, driving a stake through their heart, or setting them on fire. You know, all classic ways to kill a vampire. For the love of God, they have coffins in the manor’s basement for when they sleep. You can’t claim that vampire stereotypes are inaccurate and then try to hit most of the major vampire stereotypes.
The Invitation’s biggest crime, however, is just being dull. Since the romance is so neutered and irrelevant, it feels like senseless padding until the climax. When the climax does hit, we’re greeted with underwhelming fight choreography, random allegiance shifts with barely any prior context, and some truly ugly fire CGI. None of it is shock worthy or grabs the viewer’s attention. When a sex scene (with no graphic nudity obviously, this is a PG-13 horror movie after all) started, I began to count the ceiling tiles in my theater because I was that bored. For the record, my theater had 360 tiles, with one missing since I could see the squishy foam underneath it.
I’ve seen bad horror movies before, and I’ll most certainly continue to see them, but The Invitation was such a weird bad horror movie. It wasn’t laughably bad, but it seemed to be on autopilot for most of its run and confused what the assignment even was. It doesn’t tell a good love story and the horror bits are aggressively uninteresting and separated from everything else. The Invitation tries to be both and drops both of the balls at the same time and can’t be bothered to pick them back up. It just looks at them, shrugs its shoulders, and goes about its day. It knows it’s not very good, so doesn’t bother acknowledging it. Hell, the trailer basically tells you the entire movie’s plot. Ignore it and wait for better horror movies. We’ve still got quite a bit of time until October after all.