This 2022 flick stars Nathalie Emmanuel (of Misfits, and Game of Thrones) as Evelyn “Evie” Jackson, a recently orphaned woman who receives a DNA test as a gift, following a catering event. After submitting it, she meets her affluent, distant British family. She is drawn in by the grandeur and mystique of Whitby’s Carfax Estate, and particularly its opulent owner, Thomas Doherty’s Walter De Ville. What comes next is a gothic drama containing elements of Dracula, Crimson Peak, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, and Brontë literature up to the last 15 to 20 minutes. Unfortunately, the movie’s desire to veer away from a gothic romance and force a thriller finale renders it unbearable.
The film’s primary inspiration hails from Dracula – with vampiric brides, multiple references to the original story, and the main character declaring he was once known as ‘the most famous vampire in all of history’. Clearly, the writer (Blair Butler) and director (Jessica M. Thompson) are lovers of the gothic genre, especially vampires, given the attention to detail in every aspect of the film, from costume to music to setting.
However, their attempts to make The Invitation a horror flopped, whereas films such as Guillermo Del Toro’s Crimson Peak succeeded. Whilst both The Invitation and Crimson Peak are female-led, final girl stories with stunning settings and charming casts, as well as focusing on American characters who come to England and enter a romance whilst also experiencing some sort of supernatural menace, there are many reasons The Invitation is about as much of a horror as Twilight.
Crimson Peak’s story is about chance and manipulation and how the female lead has been influenced even before she arrived in England, enhancing the horror of the main characters’ circumstances as if she has been unlucky enough to be ensnared in a spider’s web to be devoured with no chance of escape. The Invitation struggles to create the same atmosphere of entrapment despite its attempts to, as its story relies far too much on coincidences. For one, Evie’s DNA test-taking, fueled by her grief, is a rather lazy plot device. There is no hunt for her from the villains despite their need for her specifically – their prey practically serves herself onto their plates. The film also fails to convince the audience why Evie needs to go anywhere – there is no seduction to tempt Evie to get to Europe, only the promise of a new family through a man she has just met. The Invitation forgets to convince its viewers of why Evie must go to England and be isolated from her friend so soon after meeting Oliver, her British cousin (played by Hugh Skinner). Yet, Evie barely argues against Oliver’s invitation and readily agrees to join him on the “once of a lifetime” trip to England alone. With films such as Fresh (2022) being horrors set in the 21st century, where the main character is isolated willingly by clever manipulations from the villains, there is no excuse for the lazy story writing that went into getting Evie from point A (safety in America) to point B (being unsafe in England).
The Invitation’s lazy writing also struggles to establish hints of horror beyond supernatural suspense. It has your typical gothic scratching of fabric with long nails, haunting visions of apparitions, and mysteriously vanishing servants. But those elements pale in comparison to the sizzling seduction and chemistry between Emmanuel and Doherty’s characters, with their romance taking up most of the film. That is not to say this focus isn’t brilliant; the film’s saving grace is the chemistry between the cast and the ability of each character to hold their own and sell their part. It just resulted in insufficient time being dedicated to establishing horror elements before the film’s conclusion rushed us into that realisation with lots of exposition.
Overall, the film, as it is, sucked (pun intended!).
If you want a real gothic romance where you are seduced by the strange and unusual, watch Crimson Peak (2015), Corpse Bride (2005), or Sleepy Hollow (1999). If you want a horror where a lead is isolated through trickery by the villains, watch Get Out (2017), Hush (2016), or Ready Or Not (2019). But if you just want a film where you get to see Thomas Doherty play a sexy vampire evildoer, witness stunning vampire brides, or watch Nathalie Emmanuel play a final girl in a beautiful dress, The Invitation is your film.