‘The Invitation’ Shows Studios Can’t Market Dark Romance
Do you ever watch a trailer that sends one vibe about how a movie will be, and then when you finally see it, the concepts are very different? That’s how I felt when I sat down to watch the unrated version of the film The Invitation.
The film stars Nathalie Emmanuel (Misfits, Game of Thrones) as a recently orphaned woman named Evelyn “Evie” Jackson, who gets gifted a DNA test after a catering event. She submits it and ends up meeting her wealthy, distant British family. She gets swept up in the wealth and mystery of the Carfax Estate in Whitby and especially the owner of the manor, Thomas Doherty’s Walter De Ville. What follows is a film that, up until the final 15-20 minutes, is a gothic film with shades of Dracula, Crimson Peak, Tess of the D’Urbyvilles, and Brontë vibes.
Emmanuel’s Evie is charming, courageous, and sweet. She is a tremendous modern-day ingenue who tries to find a family to fill the void in her heart. Doherty is great at playing a villainous sexy dude and does it quite well. Overall, while the film is relatively predictable, it works very well until, in the end, it feels the need to turn into Ready or Not rather than lean into the capital-R romance of the whole thing.
When I go back and rewatch the trailer, what I find frustrating is that not only does it spoil some fantastic scenes, but it also doesn’t seem to trust in the dark romantic elements. Instead, it just pulls the usual creepy house and eat the rich vibes we’ve seen recently in horror. It reminds me of the Crimson Peak trailer, which wants to tell you that this is a traditional scary horror film when the heart of the film is a gothic epic romance. The Invitation is not as good as Crimson Peak, but it has similar bones—female-led, gothic horror where love, sex, and bloodshed are strongly interwoven.
Not all horror is meant to “scare.” Sometimes it is meant to be uneasy and with gothic horror, while there are ghosts, ghouls, and sometimes sexy vampires, what we are meant to explore is the impact of the environment on its occupants. The Invitation was based, in part, on Dracula, and I feel as if writer Blair Butler and director Jessica M. Thompson had been allowed to make this film less of a thriller and more of a gothic romp, it would have been lovely.
Ultimately, The Invitation is a love letter to gothic romance. Despite some critics finding the commentary on race and class to be “hackneyed” you should read Jane Eyre or Zofloya. Its flaws come from us having no modern language for gothic romance horror, and even when we do get it, like in The Haunting of Bly Manor, audiences lament it not being “scary enough.”
(featured image: Sony Pictures Releasing)
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