The result is “The Invitation,” a new gothic horror film that manages to be both surprisingly frightening and entertaining. Think of it as Jane Austen crossed with Bram Stoker.
I was unprepared for the movie. I went into the theatre with low hopes. Hard-to-market films frequently end up in the studio’s trash can in late August or early September. My biggest fear entering the theatre was dozing off midway through the film.
I should not have been alarmed. It was one of my most unexpected and enjoyable theatre experiences this summer to see “The Invitation.” Don’t misunderstand me. The plot of the film, which was directed by Jessica M. Thompson and written by her and Blair Butler, is a standard B-movie one, but in my opinion, the film’s execution and production values are A-list.
Despite the movie’s pulpy content, Thompson and her cinematographer Autumn Eakin work together to produce a beautifully staged and shot film that offers what seem to be A-list production values. Despite the foreboding sense of doom that the opening scene of the movie sets up, the movie is exquisitely crafted in its darkness and is sumptuous to enjoy.
Unfortunately, the big reveal of the film was revealed in the trailer. Although it starts out as a romance, the story is actually a vampire thriller.
Midway through the first act of the film, the movie starts to drop a tonne of references to Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel “Dracula” and its subsequent film adaptations. Even without the giveaway, astute moviegoers would have quickly picked up the vampiric scent. I’ll admit that I love a good vampire movie, and “The Invitation” delivers. Those who don’t enjoy traditional vampires as much as I do might not find it as entertaining.
Nathalie Emmanuel portrays the attractive and endearing protagonist Evie, whose tenacity and predicament almost immediately win the audience over. She lost her mother, and now she is young, talented, and by herself. She was 14 when her father passed away. She consults an online genealogy resource in her desperate search for a family link, and it leads her to a family in England. An acquaintance she makes almost right away invites her to a family wedding in England while he is visiting her in New York.
Despite the fact that she thinks the situation is a catfish, she is intrigued enough to accept an all-expenses paid trip to England in order to reunite with her family. Things quickly turn strange when she arrives at her host Walter’s (Thomas Doherty) estate, New Carfax Abbey (Dracula fans will get the reference).
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Evie discovers that she is the last remaining woman in her large family of stuffy British male cousins. She doesn’t give it a second thought, but the information is crucial later.
Evie, however, starts to experience strange occurrences in and around the mansion, but one night, the endearing but enigmatic Walt calms her fears and gives her comfort. Before she realizes it, the two are dating. Walt appears to ask Evie to marry him as a joke after spending the night with her, and she indulges the request by jokingly agreeing.
But Walt isn’t joking. He wants to make Evie toothy like him so that she can join Viktoria (Stephanie Corneliussen) and Lucy in his collection of vampire brides (Alana Boden). The power of the vampire clan will be restored once the four families have joined together in an unholy union.
The only thing Walt and his other two wives need to do is mix their blood with Evie’s. Evie’s situation appears dire.
I won’t say any more, but the climax is very exciting. The atmospheric movie isn’t a masterpiece, but if you like gothic horror, you’ll probably like it. The movie contains many details for Dracula and vampire fans in general that will increase your enjoyment of it without detracting from the plot or the flow of the movie. When the film is available on a streaming service, I’ll probably watch it again just to see if there are any Easter eggs I missed.
Even though Emmanuel is as credulous as the majority of horror queens are required to be, she is the kind of hero that everyone will enjoy supporting. Doherty performs a predatory hot-and-cold performance that is both endearing and perilous. In their supporting bridal roles, Corneliussen and Boden enjoy biting their scenery, and Sean Pertwee is suitably spooky as Walt’s right-hand man, Mr. Fields.
This would have been an entertaining movie to watch around Halloween. In time for this year’s October, it’ll probably be available to stream.