You’d be forgiven if you thought The Invitation was another quiet attempt at re-booting a ‘Dark Universe’ of classic monsters. The premise sounds like a contemporary spin on a ‘Brides of Dracula’ concept complete with its Gothic British manor setting. But this is a Sony Pictures release, not Universal Pictures, so if there’s vampires no one is probably saying ‘Dracula’ out loud. Regardless the promotional material promised a pretty hip take on a familiar premise. Though critics weren’t impressed with the results, audiences have turned it into a modest box office hit.
After the death of her mother, Evelyn “Evie” Jackson fills out a DNA kit in an effort to connect with any extended family that may exist. But she’s shocked when she almost immediately receives a response from a previously unknown and distant British cousin, Oliver Alexander. After a pleasant meeting, Evie accepts an invitation to the New Carfax Abbey estate in the British countryside for a family wedding. When she meets the estate’s lord, Walter DeVille, Evie is instantly quite charmed. Yet New Carfax Abbey is hiding a dark secret – and it may be too late for Evie.
The Invitation Fails to Deliver on its Early Promise
For at at least of third of the movie, The Invitation brims with a lot of potential. Both its premise and Gothic setting tease a fun update on an old horror story. Director Jennifer M Thompson makes excellent use of the thriller’s modest budget. She delivers expansive shots of her British mansion and its looming, shadowy halls. Moreover, The Invitation’s opening delivers a decent PG-13 thrill that feels perfectly at home in a good popcorn horror movie. And writer Blair Butler throws in several fun references to Dracula lore that open up the possibility to some much anticipated world-building. Even a creepy scene in the manor’s off-limits library hints that The Invitation will at least be a fun, if not inconsequential, horror movie.
All too quickly The Invitation begins to feel familiar and predictable.
Things rapidly go downhill, however, after its promising start. All too quickly The Invitation begins to feel familiar and predictable. Good production values and elaborately staged scenes substitute for genuine scares. Several scenes feel like they should be generating suspense. But Thompson and Butler only manage to get one true shocking moment out of a dinner table scene. And the climax quickly feels like an overstuffed mix of horror and CGI action that conjures up comparisons to other forgettable horror movies like Van Helsing. An unnecessary and jokey epilogue is cringeworthy enough to make one hope that no sequels follow.
The Invitation Should Propel Star Nathalie Emmanuel To Bigger, and Better, Roles
Game of Thrones fans will instantly recognize The Invitation’s star, Nathalie Emmanuel. In what should be a star-making turn, Emmanuel is easily the best thing about this supernatural thriller. She brings plenty of energy, range, and natural charisma to the role. If there was ever any intent to build a franchise out of the movie, Emmanuel would be ideal to lead sequels and cross-overs. In addition to eliciting sympathy for ‘Evie’, Emmanuel invests the character with a stubborn strength. As a result, her resistance to the events surrounding her feels more plausible than what’s built into the story.
In what should be a star-making turn, Emmanuel is easily the best thing about this supernatural thriller.
However, the supporting cast around Emmanuel feels a bit more mixed. The Invitation largely wastes British character actor Sean Pertwee (Event Horizon, Dog Soldiers) in a supporting role. Both Stephanie Corneliussen and Alana Boden feel tonally out of place in a movie that can’t decide if it wants to be a classic Gothic thriller or modern mix of horror, light scares, and action. There’s also a reference to other famous Dracula characters that feels wasted and confused. As good as he looks in the role, Thomas Doherty – who may or may not be a stand-in for Dracula – never feels right as the movie’s villain. He’s more smarmy than menacing.
The Invitation a Forgettable Vampire Movie That Lacks Bite
There’s a really good movie brewing within the wasted potential of The Invitation. If this were a Universal release, and not a Sony Pictures movie, one might even hope that this was another attempt at kickstarting a ‘Classic Monsters’ universe. But Thompson can’t sustain the early Gothic atmosphere and The Invitation quickly shifts into glossy teen-oriented horror wasting its potential and a star-making turn from Emmanuel. In its final scene, The Invitation feels far removed from the promise of its stylish beginning. What’s left is always watchable and consistently underwhelming.