A gothic manor, gorgeous costumes, and an ominously well-put-together crowd. The Invitation has everything you’d expect from a vampire flick.
After the death of her mother and having no other known relatives, Evie (Nathalie Emmanuel) takes a DNA test…and discovers a long-lost cousin she never knew she had. Invited by her newfound family to a lavish wedding in the English countryside, she’s at first seduced by the sexy aristocrat host but is soon thrust into a nightmare of survival as she uncovers twisted secrets in her family’s history and the unsettling intentions behind their sinful generosity.
Based on the trailer and premise alone, it’s easy to draw the parallels between The Invitation and other horror stories like Dracula and 2019’s Ready or Not. But can this vampire flick cut its teeth amid the success of its predecessors?
What works in The Invitation
First things first – The Invitation looks exactly like you want it to look.
The DeVille Manor is brooding and gothic, the perfect dark, aristocratic vibe for a classic haunted manor / vampire story. We’re talking centuries-old sculptures and fabric-draped four-poster beds and rooms lit by ancient chandeliers and candlelight. It’s got that big, empty, ominous feel to it. From the moment Evie steps inside, you know things are going to take a turn for the worse.
Similarly, there’s great attention to detail in the costuming for The Invitation, especially for Evie. (Her red feathered ball gown is an incredible look.) Overall, the aesthetic in The Invitation really delivers, and helps the audience feel fully transported by what they’re watching.
Tying it all together is Emmanuel in the lead role. You may know her from her recurring role in HBO’s Game of Thrones, or from her appearances in the more recent installments of the Fast & Furious franchise. But The Invitation really proves Emmanuel can hold her own as a leading lady. She makes Evie feel very grounded and likable every step of the way.
Finally, while The Invitation carves out its own path, the movie also features some fun Easter eggs and references for Dracula fans. I’m actually currently reading the Bram Stoker novel for the first time, so I really enjoyed the inclusion of Jonathan, Mina, and Lucy in the movie. It’s not enough to detract from the plot of this film, but it’s enough to give classic vampire fans a little something extra to enjoy while watching.
…and what doesn’t work
Earlier I mentioned The Invitation functions as a mashup between Dracula and Ready or Not. Unfortunately, this is a movie that doesn’t live up to either of its inspirations.
If you watched the trailer for this movie, you know exactly what’s going to happen. Even if you haven’t, by the time Evie arrives at the manor, it’s pretty obvious Walt (Thomas Doherty) is drawing her into his nefarious web.
And that’s fine, as a premise. Plenty of stories – especially in horror – operate on dramatic irony. We, the audience, know something the protagonist doesn’t; it should increase our anxiety for them as they unknowingly step towards danger.
But in The Invitation, this approach never really lands. Evie doesn’t realize she’s been drawn into the vampire’s den until the last third of the movie. (In contrast, one of the best things about Ready or Not was the way the story kicked off the central premise so quickly. You didn’t have to wait for two thirds of the movie to play out before Samara Weaving knew everyone was trying to hunt her for sport.)
Not only does this pacing make the final (and most interesting) part of The Invitation feel rushed, it makes the middle drag. There’s a lot of emphasis on building up Evie and Walt’s romance – presumably to make the moment she discovers his true nature more dramatic. But to the audience – who have already assumed from the beginning what Walt is up to – it seems like wasted screen time. Despite the audience knowing Walt is a vampire, his charming of Evie still feels more “romantic drama” than sinister. Instead of ramping up the tension of the other horror elements in the film, it dampens them a bit, building to a “big real” that surprises no one but Evie.
Similarly, The Invitation also falls a bit flat because it feels like it should be a movie with more to say. Before the whole vampirism thing becomes an issue, Evie’s journey to meet her extended family puts her on a tightrope of tension along race and class lines. This unique setup gave The Invitation the chance to dive deeper than surface-level scares and cheesy vampire horror. But beyond a throwaway joke about colonization, the story never really sinks its teeth into these issues. Vampire stories have always been loaded with subtext about society; it feels like a missed opportunity for The Invitation not to do more here.
Overall, The Invitation is a passable, if not particularly memorable or impactful, entry to the vampire genre. It can scratch your itch for gothic aesthetics, but it will mostly remind you of better invitations you’ve accepted before.
The Invitation premieres in theaters August 26.