Film Reviews

Nobody Studies Happiness: Ghosts And Madness On The Mountain In A Brief Review Of The Shining

PosterCharles Olson’s gone. But some few years ago, there he was. Saw his mother and she was in a chair as he remembered her when she was alive. I remember that in a poem of his. Once he wrote, “Nobody studies / happiness,” and here I am with that, too. —Stanley Kubrick: Like he said, Kubrick: “Real is good; interesting is better.” Nobody studies happiness: The Shining (1980).

Jack Torrance pounds his life out the typewriter keys. Luck isn’t. Wendy and Danny, the wife, the son. New world here at the Overlook Hotel. New and strangely familiar journey up the dark and beautiful mountains. We know where we’re going but we don’t know why it’s familiar. Life on high and ghosts, too, like anywhere else. Only, the ghosts here can touch, can speak, can move and strike and open the doors to rooms where the future is closed.

Bathroom

What was it? Who was it? Feel my mind burning cold under the snow banks of this film—the atmosphere, it’s as heavy as the snow and wide as the bottom below; it induces one to feel severely restricted, and it will suffocate one as it suffocates characters and viewers in tandem with rot-gore images sourced from the unforgettable redrum flood. To be a guest here is to remember Home, to know Home, and what’s more, to yearn for it. I’m displaced in a pure void, writing to you from a place founded on Manifest Sickness. I don’t know anything but that I have to tell to find a way out.

Overlook

I’m typing along to the great piano captured, like a film, like anyone watching The Shining. On this recording, titled Windmills, Lubomyr Melnyk’s hands just go, and I mean go; the dream-charged composition blown up by a power that rages and caresses, like fathers, like wind, blown up, blown out, clearing dead leaves of thought between the ears—what an album to try and think to! What an enigmatic film to try and write about! Invisible force, palpable power—what a rush! Windmills even at the danger of writing to you like so many do, swept away in the rush of what they’re hearing on high.

Of course, when it comes to music and The Shining, one can’t help but think of Berlioz with his Symphonie Fantastique. So full a hum in the thick of the throat, is that dense, bone-deep blow of the funereal “Songe d’une nuit du sabbat” (Dream of the Night of the Sabbath), which is about as frigid of a melody I can recall. Yet the heat of the dance, the movement of the witches, ghouls, the monsters, shades, bells and the brush-fire of the evening beneath a night of horror that looks like any other night—just the black, and the objects and that energy that drives and drives until we see and feel the fire out, the power shot forth, gone. What depth of hopelessness is that? And what could be more fitting a piece in this film?

—Well, the rush and the rage and the force, they are fathers in this story. They live here, as the ghosts do, residentially, above one of Stephen King’s fave’s: an old Indian burial ground.

Party Time

Horror loved Kubrick. Horror loves King, too. But King doesn’t love The Shining because Kubrick was the greater artist, and The Shining belongs to Kubrick now, est. 1980. When you’ve seen the film, you’ll know.

Yes, Jack—the character; not the character that is Jack Nicholson as Jack Nicholson, but the character that is Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance. What a character! Nicholson’s performance, at times over-the-top, yet captured, and never out of place; a fine, walk-on-the-line-of-losing-it, trapeze over the abyss, performance; all those legendary takes en repeat per Kubrick helping not a little. Likewise for Scatman Crothers (Dick Hallorann), Danny Lloyd (Danny Torrence) and Shelley Duvall (Wendy Torrance)—what endurance! [See DVD and Blu-ray and YouTube and others of the heavyweight media et cetera for info and explanatory notes regarding Kubrick’s much discussed quantity of takes. Or, summarily: REHEARSALS ARE A WASTE OF TIME!].

Jack Mad (2)

What else? Well . . .

Jack doesn’t love Wendy.
Not like poetry loved Verlaine.
Jack loves Wendy like Jack hates Jack.
Jack hates Jack never finishing projects;
hates Jack with nowhere to go and the time short
and tight like the noose between his eyes;
hates Jack like settling into soft leather
with a copy of Playgirl,
waiting for Ullman, his wife and son to find him
in a lobby at the end of things;
hates Jack like Danny
overthrowing an existence Jack hates
without promise, without even the dream of escape—
no, even in his dreams, Jack hates,
and it’s growing, violently growing:
“I dreamed I killed you and Danny . . .”;
hates Jack like he hates Jack like he hates Jack
taking odd jobs, asking for dead-end work
from men who dress like the American flag
and refer to celebrities and presidents
as “all the best people”
with hair like Kennedy's
while Jack ties green around his neck
across the beggars side of the desk,
desiring creation (veni! veni! veni!)
—hates Jack like the suit and tie
absolutely nothing behind the suit and tie
save madness and the madness
of keeping madness under woolen wraps;
hates Jack like you might Hate Jack
hunting Danny, hunched over, sick walk, sick ape,
fixated, the stare of death from madness
streaming down a riven mind imploded:
Jack.
Hates.

Monocaine

Who slipped monocaine into this man’s bourbon? Jack Griffin. Jack Torrance. Disappearing act—where is Torrance? Wherever Johnny is . . . . What horror is this when alone at the top of the mountain, man can finally know what it all was, what is and what isn’t, and do, finally, what one’s entire life has brought him to? I cannot actually tell what Kubrick shows.

The Shining has it all. But don’t try and write about it. The ghosts that bully reason were kin to Kubrick, and they will come for you if you do. It’s all there. Go and see. Don’t be late.


This review was originally published by, FROM THE PROJECTION ROOM, film blog of THE WINCHESTER FILM CLUB.

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You Should Have Listened: A Review Of The Hallow

Hallow PosterOh yes, The Hallow (2015). Your ticket read, The Woods. So call it, The Woods, if you please. Both are C+’s from IFC Midnight. So come on, then.

This film feels how it looks. We start bright with all of the promise sunshine can offer one taking the ferry to a new life. Good god it is bright and warm under such a hot coin; that boat keeps it moving and we’re ex-patriots, yes, and travelling to Ireland where director Corin Hardy’s story of Adam, Clare (Joseph Mawle and Bojana Novakovic) and their baby son, takes its seedy root.

Banger house with barred windows. A mill house all sag and chips. Signs of long life: rust, bad wood eaten up and miles and miles and miles (and miles) of lush green forest—this is what Adam and Clare wanted, likely dreamed of, when cramped in London town locked away in another story. But they’re here, now: Ireland; and windows barred with iron by previous owners make not a difference, spark not even a sand grain of concern regarding their most recent happiness. Take a ferry to a new life. Gone. Bright white and blinds like romanticism.

Irish Countryside (2)

[Oh, by the way, the dogs name is, Iggy. Which could be close to funny if you think about those Stooges, those musical Stooges. Now, back to it].

Adam and Iggy walk the forest, look the trees, examine the trees, connect with the trees. Nothing doing while this sleepy picture crawls its frame. Nothing even really cinematic until the music turns guide, directs the viewer how to perceive the dead and rotting deer carcass Adam and Iggy uncover on their trek—the ominous now known with black, viscous blood, the wild hair and rotting flesh hammering the message of the stomach-turning sight home. Romantic fade. Dark notes and tones.

Iggy Bite

Adam’s a scientist; concerns concerning forestry and the health of trees concern him greatly, and if you were to imagine that this now known piece of information inspired his budding family’s move, well, you’d likely be on to something: He’s going to save it!—What’s it, you ask? The tree!, of course. Adam’s going to save the tree!

All well and good; but, what is it, how is it, this understanding, Adam’s understanding of trees? Where does it come from? What shaped it? What’s really beneath this microscope? What did Adam touch with his bare hands before England, Mum, textbooks and tradition touched and bound him? And what can he bring now, a man out of bounds from multiple views, to this saving mission?

Yeah, who knows? But by the looks of it, Adam’s dallying in the dense and hallowed forests of Ireland look to be the start of a great lesson for him. Just a shame he has a family in tow, for what will they reap? For, when real and supreme ignorance couple with a lack of noble understanding, a greater price than tuition must be paid; this comes, is shown, and that brings the horror down like a pissed off Chatterton writing, “For how can idiots, destitute of thought, / Conceive or estimate, but as they’re taught?”. —Forgive the end-rhyme, for he was only human.

Clare and Baby (2)

Creatures closely resembling little Pumpkinheads thieve babies in the night. You already know what Adam and Clara have . . . . For this trespassing on the Hallow (which basically constitutes living in the house Adam, Clara and the baby live in/walking in the woods, poking around, touching shit (and trees, too, of course)), Adam and Clara’s baby is declared a recompense. In the folklore, this event is already known. Not specifically, of course, with reference to these characters, but, it is known that the Hallow will come for any and all trespassers on the sacred land.

It comes to the house, it comes in the house, moves within the walls, flops down into the crib, inhumanly reaches out to the car, mysteriously clutches and chokes out the engine, pokes for entrance into human eyes: it comes, it grows, it lives within living organisms—this is, the Hallow.

Attic Clare (600x314)

Born of unknown origin and recorded in folklore, this is the apple of existence Adam refuses to bite into, seemingly, for no other reason than that, having not been sufficiently able to account for it by a most rational and scientifically appropriate explanation, that is, supported by facts and evidence, it must simply, surely—yes, has to be—be pure nonsense.

Adam’s conviction is compounded by his increasingly odd, yet altruistic, neighbor, Colm Donnelly (Michael McElhatton), who, due to Adam’s unwillingness to lend a listening ear to him (Donnelly has suffered something awful at the hands of the Hallow and earnestly cautions against the actions of Adam that are, in his mind, eventually leading him down that very same path), eventually bursts with that beloved and often parodied line that unites so many horror films with but a itty-bitty mouthful of painfully truthful words. Yes, that’s right, it’s the “you should have listened” line: YOU SHOULD HAVE LISTENED! And on and on and on into that bloody tradition.

Pumpkinhead (700x394)

Well, Adam should’ve listened. And hey, you know what, Clare should’ve listened, too. Especially when Donnelly broke into their home and dropped off his fancy fairy tale book. Shoulda listened. Here come the little pumpkinheads now, the pangs of suffering and mostly nothing else . . . . Oh, a touching recognition of loss in a scene of awakening with Clare holding her baby . . . then, the nothing else from here on out.

If you’re a teenager at home, expecting friends, rifling through your satellite search results and looking for a “good one” for the late night, sure, add The Hallow to your list. But if you’re going to the theatre, something else is being shown . . . . Or else . . . . YOU. SHOULD. HAVE. LISTENED!


This review was originally published by, FROM THE PROJECTION ROOM, film blog of THE WINCHESTER FILM CLUB.

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Mommy You’re A Wreck: A Review Of Severin Fiala And Veronika Franz’s Goodnight Mommy

PLAKAT Kinostart Oesterreich FINAL-END 02122014.inddIt’s October 30th at the Alamo Drafthouse. My brother and I sitting there, talking: “I like foreign films because they make you pay attention.” Next thing I know, a few rows below us I see a man wearing the pumpkin mask from Halloween III. It was a comforting sight. [Read a piece on Halloween III].

Goodnight Mommy reminds me of The Very Things with their “Mummy You’re A Wreck” song. In addition to complimenting any Halloween playlist, there’s a striking bond between that mummy and the one in this film: they’re both in rather poor shape and frightening those that care for them.

Having returned home swathed in bandages and looking like a modern version of the classic monster, is, Mom. I don’t know mom’s name and it doesn’t matter. Mom is Mother, and Mother’s the anchor.

Mother’s had some facial surgery. Her face is unrecognizable, swollen with dark purple bruises. It’s an abject horror nearly too much for her young boys, twins Elias and Lukas, to bear. (Note too that one red eye. Angry red eye and it’s looking at a boy emerging from the dark and he’s scared and you’re watching it and . . . oohh.). And Mother’s not exactly warm to the boys’ reservations about her current condition, either. Which, for the caring, concerned mother, is rather odd. Something in the way . . . .

Mother Blinds

Mother carries the keys to the home (no male figure, no male presence) like some sullen warden, even locking the boys in their room on occasion. A rather stylized shot comes. It helps to paint Mother’s picture for the audience. Dark shot of her standing before the mirror, tan chemise swaying in front of the Dyson while she looks and looks, bandages on her face, trouble on her mind. Her boys hiding out in the cramped safety of their room, speculating about Mom’s new mien, wondering what to do about it, how to behave.

Mother is exceedingly irritable too. Has new, off-putting demands: no sunlight, no visitors to their home, and no disruption of her incredibly important rest. Viewers sense the window of affection closing in on the relationship between she, Elias and Lukas faster with each transition of scene. This doesn’t seem to be the same woman heard on a recording singing solace to her boys’ pains while she was off having her surgery. “Lullaby and Goodnight,” she sang.

Elias and Lukas are having a hard time with it all. For them, youth and the understanding that ripens in raw experience, lacks an elder’s guidance. Boys have their imagination and these boys have nature in the beautiful Austrian countryside to exhaust their burning energy. But Mother is the strongest presence of any nurturing quality, and rarely is she present as a mother or simply anything but a towering, implacable figure holing herself up, internally, externally, in the dark. No love. No closeness. What’s to become of these boys? asks the viewer.

Despite it eventually being depicted as recourse to a crushing loneliness incubated inside of their home, Elias’ and Lukas’ adventurous play in the countryside seems promising. In other stylized, beautiful sequences shot on the “glorious 35mm,” the boys are seen having the time of their lives in the arms, so to speak, of the natural world. Scenes of the them outside, laughter and roaming, roughing each other up, racing through corn stalks, swimming, are uplifting.

Cornfield

From a viewer’s standpoint, though, perhaps it’s a bit too pacifying. Such warm shots shown in a flush of sunlight induce a bit of drowsiness in the dark of the theatre like a cloud of henbane. The effect is short-lived, though, ending as quickly as the freedom Elias and Lukas feel in their outdoor play. The quiet voice of the countryside is no remedy for the growing horrors of doubt awaiting the boys in their home; though it spells disaster for the family, for the audience, this is where Goodnight Mommy really starts to heat up. Sick heat, sickening shots, sickening sights.

Mother says she’s Mother, but what else would a person posing as your mother say when you ask them if they’re truly your mother and they stand to lose considerably by telling you otherwise? Since she’s been home, hardly a kind word, no loving touch, just the commands. Elias and Lukas can’t understand it. Logically, they decide (aided by family photo albums, the wrong eye color and a missing mole on her face) that she’s somebody else.

“She’s so different” says Elias. And the boys’ thoughts as cruel blooms grow into their imaginations unrestricted. They don’t want to be lied to. Need love. Badly. At what price will it come?

Goodnight Mommy’s power lies in the build; in the growth of the film into the evil that replaces the love and trust between mother and son poisoned by an avalanche of pain. There’s trouble here and it’s often highlighted by the filmmakers’ use of stark images, like the mirror shot mentioned earlier; like the nature shots with the boys; like a dead cat in a fish tank on the living room table (how’s that for a symbol of disconnect?).

Mother and Son

The attentive powers of the viewer are tested in these moments: make the connections, follow the signs. Notice the home, how grand, large, how expertly and artfully furnished. See too the roach as wide as your middle and index finger combined scurrying up the wall. The two sights, one of affluence, the other disgust, aligned, clash considerably. There are many others, mostly of disgust, but at the risk of spoiling . . . .

Losing touch and patience, needful of truth from the mouth they are desperately in need of trusting, Elias and Lukas go overboard: Mother wakes to her hands and feet bound to her bed. This time she knows, physically, how little meaning her words have in her boys’ doubting minds. Mother wakes to Elias and Lukas still and masked. “How do I get up?” she asks. “You don’t,” is her reply.

Amid agonizing screams, yet again the shot of beauty shines through. What’s heard is an awful discordance coming from the room with the boys and their mother, as in shrieks indicating the birth of inflicted pain; yet, what’s shown through the lens, what’s seen by viewers—bright green leaves suffused with sunlight, a green that glows under the radiance no matter what humans do/are doing/have done, and for whatever reason(s). This shot is harnessed for all the eternity of a torturous truth.

Over all the evil, the honey sun, still golden. There is growth and there is decay, and there’s the echo of Mother’s lullaby trapped in youth as green as the leaves.


This review was originally published by, FROM THE PROJECTION ROOM, film blog of THE WINCHESTER FILM CLUB.

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A Rose Is A Rose Is A Rose And A Viewer Is A Prisoner: A Review of the Stanford Prison Experiment

The Stanford Prison Experiment PosterThe Stanford Prison Experiment (2015) is a film about what it means to be human, with a special emphasis on what it feels like to suffer and to know pain. Of course, it’s also about the Stanford prison experiment, which is portrayed so realistically, one wonders why a film was even made about it at all.

Those searching frames for facsimiles of what they learned in Psych class are likely to be pleased, finding that, within these artificial halls of realism, viewers are trained not to wonder, but to condemn their imaginations under director Kyle Alvarez’s strict, no-tolerance policy demanding them to do so. An appropriate tag-line for this film could’ve been, “Here it is. Again.”

There is no escape for the audience, save a solitary scene that takes place, presumably, at the home of Dr. Philip Zimbardo (Billy Crudup) and his girlfriend, Dr. Christina Maslach (Olivia Thirlby). All other scenes are shot within the Stanford University hall chosen for the experiment and recreated for this film, which is incredibly effective at creating and incubating the heavy, somber mood that simply does not leave The Stanford Prison Experiment. Nor the viewer, for that matter.

But I go too fast . . . What is this experiment?—A group of willing, college-age males are chosen by Dr. Zimbardo and his graduate staff, along with a former prison inmate/current advisor, Jesse, (Nelsan Ellis) to simulate the experience of prison life by enacting roles as guards and prisoners in a mock prison created at Stanford University during the summer of 1971. All are observed continuously by Zimbardo and his staff, who sit back and watch what unfolds from a safe distance. What is it that determines the students’ roles in the experiment? A mere coin toss.

“We’ve embellished very little,” said Alvarez during the introduction he provided for the Winchester Film Club. The Stanford prison experiment (the actual experiment) being not a muted, mysterious nor un-documented occurrence, the film aridly translates reports of the experiment via audio/video recreation—nothing is happening here but what is already known and previously documented. So why do it? Why choose to cloak something that just is in an art form when not a thing new or distinct is to be introduced to the public about it?—I don’t know either.

Which brings us to The Stanford Prison Experiment’s strength and, probably (this reviewer cannot fully decide) saving grace—the talented young cast.

Viewers experience all the dramatic capabilities of pain-addled and heavy human emotional trauma within the characters; specifically, within the dramatic interplay between the guards and prisoners, their role assignations and the consequences thereof. This relationship is the vehicle for all of the The Stanford Prison Experiment’s movement into a dense, mind-probing experience; one that leaves audience members feeling anchored to the floor when the credits appear.

Though it lacks in creativity, Alvarez’s follow-the-rules-and-make-what-happened-happen-again style is quite effective at inducing the feeling of confinement within the frame, which, for this story, is both fitting and feels . . . proper, dull as it is. As viewers, our sight is limited to what occurs within the artificial prison; we are fully immersed. After Day One, the mind is even ready to dispel the term, artificial, as rules are broken that not only jeopardize the experiment, but also the safety of all participants as well, ushering in a minute thrill in the form of a question: Just how far is this going to go? Or, just how far is Zimbardo going to allow this to go?

Crudup, as the experiment’s progenitor and future figurehead, Dr. Zimbardo, strikingly resembles his character, Russell Hammond, from Almost Famous (2000). Add about ten years after Stillwater’s farewell you’ve got Russell finally getting his shit together. There are even intrinsic similarities between the two characters. Like Russell, Zimbardo’s getting off on the feelings of others, searching for the “real.” Though now, as a psychologist, it’s more socially and, technically speaking, ethically, acceptable for him to do so. However, Dr. Russell Z., the professor, is also dating one of his students, which, along with the goatee he wears (less a symbol of good than evil in film), is likely to impress upon modern-day viewers the likes of an absent-minded and untrustworthy figure of authority. Ethically speaking, of course.

But before you go humming “Fever Dog,” remember, this film is about the experiment; what happened and how it affected those it happened to. The talents of Ezra Miller (Prisoner 8612) and Tye Sheridan (Prisoner 819) in particular, as prisoners experiencing true pangs induced by the erasure of their identities, confront viewers with the pain of one suffering at the unmerciful and demeaning hands of another simply because one has been designated to rule, the other to be ruled. “You have no right to fuck with my head!” screams Prisoner 8612 with a terror-stricken animal’s fury.

There are no surprises when considering the facts. Any human being aware of roles played and playing won’t find much worth the adjective, thrilling, in this film. Power conferred by authority from a distance is carried to the utmost degree of severity, which pushes the audience around much like the guards physically and emotionally push the prisoners. Humiliation ensues, via convincing roles of terror from actors, Michael Angarano, Nicholas Braun and James Frecheville, who, as prison guards, expertly show how quickly and with just such a little push, man becomes beast-like, reason or no.

Though I’ve failed to come up with a reason to justify The Stanford Prison Experiment’s translation into film, I won’t deny being moved by the film’s emotional depth; carrying that out of the theatre and into my life for the evening. There might’ve been some pretty good reasons why this project was “around town for a really long time,” as Alavarez remarked in his introduction—perhaps because the idea is but an empty cell? Nevertheless, it’s here now, and for what it lacks in originality, in creativity, The Stanford Prison Experiment surely makes up for in intensity of feeling.


This review was originally published by, FROM THE PROJECTION ROOM, film blog of THE WINCHESTER FILM CLUB.

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Cult of Silence: A Review of Karyn Kusama’s, The Invitation

The Invitation 2015 PosterUnder Karyn Kusama’s direction, The Invitation (2015) is a sharp thrill; tightly knit, well suspended. Tension builds exceedingly, exuding like molasses from frame to frame. The mind exclaims (and some audience members actually did exclaim) behind the eyes following the trail of scenes—point being, engagement with this film hardly appears a choice, until it’s over and you’ve had the time to think your participation through. A most powerful and captivating movie, The Invitation.

Starring Michiel Huisman, Logan Marshall-Green and John Carroll Lynch, The Invitation, outwardly, is a story of friendship, of reunion, of bonds, of human links and the desire for those links to transcend the pain that can be one life feeling alone under the weight of the world. Inwardly, we have here a tale artfully constructed that prompts viewers to ask just how far the human mind is willing to go to fire its person to action with the goal of transcending/escaping/avoiding feelings dark, burdensome and consummately destructive.

The Invitation begins with an introduction to the films strongest character, Will (Marshall-Green). Much about Will points to suffering. As viewers watch him driving in the opening sequence, Will appears to be staring well beyond his point of sight, instead looking backwards in his mind, sinking in a somber reflection.

And why wouldn’t he be, when considering where he’s heading? Will and his girlfriend, Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi), are driving to his ex-wife, Eden’s (Tammy Blanchard) dinner party being held at the same house they once attempted to raise a family in—a failure the severity of which, in terms of pain and suffering, seems to have brought nearly all but death to the two young adults.

Kusama, in her effective way of storytelling, directs the audience to follow Will closely; consequently, viewers become attendees at the dinner party, arriving with Will and Kira to participate in the evenings carefully arranged events. Through Will, viewers catch a glimpse of he and Eden’s previous life together, which is critical in framing this night in its true context. This is evinced in flashback scenes, horrific rifts in consciousness in which an emotionally fractured Will suffers from visions past, undoubtedly fueled by the sense-connection with objects within the arena of his great pain. In these flashbacks, viewers hardly recognize Will—hair short, clean-shaven; absolutely not a single trace of the Jesus-like visage that brands him now.

Will

Will’s languid, stultified movement, disheveled appearance and mostly detached demeanor suggest that his pain harbored in the past holds much of his person there as well. Will appears on the fringe, already carrying too much, and the film has just begun. This is a man in the throes of something awful, which is a brilliant stroke on behalf of his character, as audiences cannot fully trust in his guidance, as Will is clearly intoxicated with grief.

Let the party begin! Enter the guests, but mostly confusion.

It’s been two years since Will or any of his friends, Tommy (Mike Doyle), Choi (Karl Yune), Gina (Michelle Krusiec), Claire (Marieh Delfino) or Miguel (Jordi Vilasuso) have seen/heard from Eden. When we arrive with Will, all appears well under the circumstances, convoluted as they are—again, a man (Will) and woman (Eden), formerly married, reunite in the home they once shared and lost a son in, surrounded by their former friends and things, joined by the woman’s new husband, David (Huisman). Yes, all appears honky dory, for what it’s worth.

Not too long, though, before Will’s vision, a sharp split between horrid past dreams and a painful, present reality, begins to discern signs presaging disaster.

Will

There’s a couple of guests none of the friends recognize. One, introduced to the party by David as “Sadie” (Lindsay Burdge), is but a thyrsus short of donning the garb of a manic Bacchae. Sadie, in her own unique way, somewhat similar to Will, appears quite distracted. Once she professes her love for an entire group of people she just met, the picture of one who went to Burning Man and never quite came back, a black widow in the barn netting the unwary with pleasure-promises, emerges as an increasingly volatile addition to this increasingly odd get-together. Sadie is presented to all as a sort of “house pet” in David and Eden’s new home—something not one guest is comfortable with, but nevertheless reserves their true feelings in a cult of silence binding the old friends in more ways than one.

Added to the guest list is yet another stranger, Pruitt (John Carroll Lynch). Pruitt is Lynch’s bulking death sentence of a character from Zodiac (2007). Just try and tell the difference between the two. Soft as he may appear talking high on forgiveness, Pruitt proves about as merciful as a shrike, cozy as Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music (1975).

Pruitt

Who are these fucking people?! Why are they here? What’s wrong with Eden? seems to emanate from the minds of the guests, expressed through the eyes showing bafflement and disclosed somewhat discreetly through all the half-drunken blathering and largely artificial cheer; yet it finds expression only through Will’s voice, synonymous with the voice of the audience. Will dares to break through the cult of silence; does it alone, with results varying considerably. “Can we (the audience) trust him?” is a question that drives The Invitation along at a slow, but powerful pace. Impossible to look away.

All of the wonderful epicurean delights (the extravagant, last supper-like banquet, outrageously expensive red wine and red velvet cake) of the evening and bright reunion cheerfulness serve as a smokescreen when considering some of the special precautions that have been taken. Safety measures, David concludes. Windows within the home are barred. David locks doors; keeps the keys on his person. Cell phones won’t work. And, added to these startling facts, the group gets a surprise screening of the “look at our cult and special happiness video.”—Wait, WHAT!?

Yes, the hardest pill to swallow for the evening is the revelation of what Eden’s really been up to the past two years. Sure, she was in Mexico. But this was no leisure trip, not a vacation. Strange has grown stranger . . . .

We have here a group of individuals, each united by a traumatic past event, broken thoroughly and yearning for a kind of forgiveness that will allow their lives renewal in meaning and the strength to fight down what nearly took them entirely.

As members of this group, David, Eden, Sadie and Pruitt say what you might expect them to about achieving happiness in a tone indicative of the mindset of one who feels, truly, that they’ve somehow evolved, somehow transcended age-old manacles of pain and anguish; and what’s more, can freely dispel the truth, with pinpoint accuracy, that points to how everyone else has not done so, yet most certainly could if they’d only receive the truth secured within the confines of the group—there is no life but group life; no love but group love. Riff raff, in short.

I’m wholly engaged watching this film unfold. As a member of this dinner party, I feel Will’s frustration when finally, pressed yet again by the indomitable will behind the groups “special” members, Will lashes out at David, excitedly stating: “You don’t know me. You can’t.” attempting to ward off the condescending “Come on, dear brother, why so suspicious of us?” talk flopping out of David’s mouth. I hear Bukowski reading from “The Genius Of The Crowd”: “and those who preach peace do not have peace / those who preach love do not have love / . . . beware the knowers.”

Last Supper

Promises both idealistic and empty as balloons, disguised as truth, fall their frail forms into nothingness, wilting words from oh-so-seriously loving mouths promising escape from what generations of men and women have lived and died in. “Pain is optional,” says a sure-mouthed Eden, her eyes sinking behind the glaze of a chemically induced intoxication. “Come and play with us, Danny. Forever… and ever… and ever.”

A shield comes over Will as he fights with his weapon of sense through other voices claiming they’re off “to a better world, to peace,” in this enrapturing film exploring a modern-day representation of an increasingly interesting human experience.

Bolstering The Invitation’s action is the film’s skeletal score, a haunting, prickly set of sparsely spread out notes effective in their ability to incite one’s awareness of malaise like a fast hand of nimble fingertips racing up the spine.

100 minutes and not a second wasted, this is The Invitation. Sacrifice this much of your life for a thriller you won’t soon be forgetting.

This review was originally published by, FROM THE PROJECTION ROOM, film blog of THE WINCHESTER FILM CLUB.

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