[Editor’s note: my contributions to this capsule round-up are slightly beefed-up versions of short reviews I originally posted to my Letterboxd account. -DG]
The Invitation (Karyn Kusama, 2015)
From the moment The Invitation opens, with Will (Logan Marshall-Green) and Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi) mercy-killing a coyote they hit with their car, a sense of dread is immediately established. That sense of foreboding runs through every minute of the dinner party they’re attending, where Will’s ex-wife Eden (Tammy Blanchard) and her new husband David (Michiel Huisman) have invited all their old friends to reunite.
There may or may not be more than meets the eye to this dinner party and director Karyn Kusama milks that tension for all its worth for the film’s duration. While Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi’s script occasionally slides into a heavy-handedness, it boasts a lot of wonderful concepts that its director and cast explore. The way the script forces all of its characters into interacting with each other is its best aspect and an interesting way to excuse some stilted deliveries and eccentricities in character performances that would seem otherwise strange.
It’s all a game of politeness, of individuals who haven’t seen each other in years trying to get back into the groove of things, but discomfort and past tragedies blending with present day awkwardness. The Invitation burns slow, but at an hour and forty minutes, it almost seems as though it could use another twenty minutes to improve upon a subplot meant to instill the chamber horror-drama with an emotional core. Even with its missteps though, Kusama delivers an interesting and thrilling low-budget feature with echoes of Polanski and an abundance of slashers past. [JB]
Night of the Creeps (Fred Dekker, 1986)
This effervescent horror-comedy transmission from cult favourite Dekker might be the perfect 3 1/2-star movie; good not great, formulaic but fun, so nakedly embracing the clichés and tropes it deploys that it eventually becomes charming rather than grating. In a way, it might be the perfect 80s movie as well, combining the slasher film, the jocks-v.-nerds comedy, old alien invasion films, and the zombie movie together with just enough gooiness and gratuitous nudity to make it primed for both USA Up All Night and the VCRs of young teenage dorks everywhere. In fact, like Fright Night, this movie is probably best experienced at a slumber party in your parents’ basement during your 12th birthday.
Ultimately, even though it tested the very limits of my tolerance for cutesy namedrops/references, it’s a very funny movie in that semi-cornball 80s vein (a typical line: “Do you think it’s taking the Lord’s name in vain to say ‘oh my God’ a whole bunch of times really fast like that?,” soon appended with “How about getting the shit scared out of you by a creepy scary dead guy in a refrigerated coffin?”). Leads Jason Lively and Steve Marshall have great chemistry, while Tom Adkins steals the show as the excellently-‘stashed hard drinkin’ cop with a traumatic past. This is the kind of movie whose power is in its lightness. Never underestimate the power of unpretentiousness in execution. [DG]
Tom at the Farm (Xavier Dolan, 2013)
A thriller that’s actually about half of a thriller, hobbled by a series of questionable stylistic and structural choices. Artificially inflated by (among other things) that sledgehammer of a score, and artificially deflated by the simple act of being adapted from a play (originally written by co-screenwriter Michel Marc Bouchard). The drama is spread over an entire town, which has the unfortunate side effect of allowing steam to leave the boiler. The claustrophobia the material begs for is gone, replaced by half-baked characterizations and motivations (i.e. poor writing). Chiefly, you never get the impression that Francis (Pierre-Yves Cardinal) is a psychopathic brute because of his repressed desires. If anything, the movie posits it’s because he’s a knuckle-dragger from a small town. It’s telling that the word “farmer” here is used as an insult.
On the plus side, Papa Dolan (Québecois renaissance man Manuel Tadros) shows with some great eleventh-hour monologuing, and André Turpin’s lens work is rock solid. But all the tasty cinematography in the world can’t mask the stench of big-city contempt for les régions here, which hangs in the air like so much cow shit.
I’m starting to think I’m just not buying what Dolan is here to sell. [DG]
The Invitation; directed by Karyn Kusama; written by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi; starring Logan Marshall-Green, Tammy Blanchard, Michiel Huisman, and Emayatzy Corinealdi; 99 minutes.
Night of the Creeps; directed by Frank Dekker; written by Fred Dekker; starring Jason Lively, Steve Marshall, Jill Whitlow, and Tom Atkins; 88 minutes.
Tom at the Farm; directed by Xavier Dolan; written by Michel Marc Bouchard and Xavier Dolan; starring Xavier Dolan. Pierre-Yves Cardinal, Lise Roy, and Èvelyne Brochu; 95 minutes.