[Screen It]


(2022) (Nathalie Emmanuel, Thomas Doherty) (PG-13)

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Horror: An American woman discovers that she has extended family in England, only to learn their gracious invitation for her to join them has nefarious intentions.

Evie (NATHALIE EMMANUEL) is a struggling New York artist who, upon the recent death of her mother, now has no family. Or so she thinks, as a DNA test reveals that she has a British cousin, Oliver Alexander (HUGH SKINNER), who just so happens to be in town. After meeting, he invites her to a lavish wedding in the English countryside at a manor owned by Walter De Ville (THOMAS DOHERTY).

While the head butler, Mr. Fields (SEAN PERTWEE), doesn't seem to think much of her, Walt finds himself smitten with Evie and vice-versa, something that doesn't seem to sit well with the condescending Viktoria (STEPHANIE CORNELIUSSEN), although her younger cohort, Lucy (ALANA BODEN), takes a liking to the newcomer.

As Walt proceeds to sweep Evie off her feet, odd occurrences begin to unnerve the outsider, all of which eventually comes around to the big reveal where Evie finds herself smack dab in the middle of an unexpected nightmare. From that point on, she does what she can to extricate herself from that.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10

A few years back, we had my mom do one of those DNA tests where you spit into a tube, send it off to a lab, and then await the results. Those not only include a breakdown of one's ethnicity and likely places of origin, but also a list of probable familial connections to others who previously took the same test. While it's unclear if all of my mom's matches were legit, it did connect her to her niece's daughter as a close match proving -- at least in that particular case -- that the testing is accurate (and quite cool overall).

Sort of like the Internet in general, using such tests paired with paid genealogical sites can be a wormhole into which one descends and doesn't reemerge for quite a while. Some of that can be wasted time looking at official documents and others' family trees, but there are instances where you'll find distant relatives and decide you want to contact them. For better or worse.

Not surprisingly, it's the latter in the horror flick "The Invitation," where Nathalie Emmanuel plays Evie, a struggling New York artist who, after losing her last immediate family member, decides to take one of those DNA tests and -- voila -- discovers she has some additional family across the pond.

She discovers a cousin, Oliver (Hugh Skinner), whom she didn't know existed, makes contact with him, and then accepts his invite -- cue the dramatically suspenseful musical chords -- to join him and the rest of the extended fam at their lavish English countryside estate for a big, posh wedding.

Things initially seem idyllic -- don't they always? -- but as often occurs in such flicks, all of that slowly but surely begin to unravel. But Evie is initially blind to that thanks to the charming Walt De Ville (Thomas Doherty doing the heartthrob thing) -- cue that music again based on that last name -- who sweeps her off her feet and eventually into bed.

All of which means she doesn't see what goes down in the forbidden library late at night, although she has some creepy visions and encounters that do begin to unsettle her. Writer/director Jessica M. Thompson and co-writer Blair Butler keep most of the horror at bay for a good chunk of the film, but then suddenly let it loose in a frenzy of vampire shenanigans where everyone's true colors -and thirsts -- suddenly erupt.

Granted, none of that's a surprise given the not entirely subtle hints along the way, but it's so sudden and over-the-top that things get more than a bit hammy. All of which undermines the thrills and chills and replaces it with rote genre material that quickly wears out its welcome and will likely make you wish you hadn't RSVPed for "The Invitation." The film rates as a 4 out of 10.

Posted August 26, 2022

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