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'The Invitation' review: Wobbly vampire tale anchored by Nathalie Emmanuel

Courtesy of Sony


A familiar tale of flesh, vampires, and blood, “The Invitation” is giving the summer movie season its last dying breath, or more like a whimper. Director and co-writer Jessica M. Thompson crafts an homage to an old “Dracula” tale, unafraid of indulging in horror tropes and genre cliches (lightning flashes, creaky basements, and seductive making out while fireworks blast in the background). However, the film’s cheesier elements and predictable conclusion are salvaged by Nathalie Emmanuel’s guarded performance, a refreshing departure from her supporting work in the “Fast and Furious” and “Game of Thrones” franchises’. 

She plays Evie, a struggling New York artist reeling from the loss of her mother who is yearning for human compassion and connection. Her best friend Grace (a funny Courtney Taylor) offers some relief and sly commentary on the current dating scene and isn’t afraid to unleash an opinion even if nobody asks for it, but Evie is looking for more fulfillment. Her prayers may have been answered after hearing from a long-lost relative named Oliver (Hugh Skinner) that she comes from a lineage of wealthy English aristocrats. What are the odds?!

Before you can say creepy, Evie is whisked away on an all-expense paid trip to Yorkshire where she’ll be the “guest of honor” for a prestigious wedding ceremony: “Everyone can’t wait to meet you!” Oliver gleefully declares. These early sequences give major “Get Out” meets “Ready or Not” vibes, especially as she’s courted by the ambiguous Walter DeVille (Thomas Doherty – dashing and charming as ever) who can’t seem to keep his eyes off her. Evie isn’t used to such luxury, getting waited on hand and foot inside a lavish mansion, which prevents her from seeing that perhaps some, er, ulterior motives are at play.

The trailer did a horrible disservice to audiences by revealing what happens next (something I won’t do here), but let’s just say it revolves around ancient family history etched in stone long before Evie was born. Oh, and bloodthirsty vampires. A tense cat-and-mouse game ensues and Emmanuel is quite the revelation, though her character transformation takes its sweet time manifesting. It isn’t until about the hour mark we begin to suspect “The Invitation” is leading somewhere worth exploring. Before that, we’re left to wonder: why is that shady butler (played with a devilish snarl by Sean Pertwee) leading the help staff into a secluded basement? What are those screams coming from? And who are these two female house guests (played by Stephanie Cornelissen and Alana Boden) with an affinity for Evie?

All is eventually revealed in quick, rapid-fire succession over a dizzying final thirty minutes as “The Invitation” struggles to ascertain what type of horror movie it wants to be. Turns out, it’s the kind with minimal gore (the amount that lets you skate by with a wimpy PG13 rating) and little seduction value. Still, there is some campy, vampire fun Thompson plays around with where, had it gone for the R-rating, might have gotten more bang for its bite. 

Grade: B-

THE INVITATION is now playing in theaters.


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