This past weekend, The Invitation dominated the domestic box office. It’s the latest in supernatural horror, and helps to establish an emerging sub-genre: a gorgeous girl in an extravagant dress kills a family of rich people trying to sacrifice her. Then she burns their house down.
It’s quickly becoming my favorite kind of movie.
The Invitation pulls from classic stories like Dracula and modern films like Ready or Not to tell a gothic romance that’s somehow textbook, original, and enjoyable all the way through. Minor spoilers ahead, so proceed with caution!
Little Orphan Evie
Evie is the epitome of a millennial final girl. A young Black woman and a struggling artist, Evie is full of conviction, independence, and witty humor that immediately endears her to the audience. She has a strong moral backbone, standing up to anyone rude and befriending the downtrodden and overlooked.
Above all, Evie is alone, which is a vital element of the story. She has good friends and coworkers, but both of her parents have passed away, meaning her once small family is now gone entirely. As Evie grieves the loss of her mother, it’s clear that she misses the unconditional love and support of family. This is what drives her to send a DNA sample to a heritage company, and later, convinces her to take a leap of faith and fly to England to meet her distant relatives.
Unfortunately, she’s about to find out that having a big family isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
A Fish Out of Water
Evie acts as a stand in for the audience as we enter a world unlike our own. I’m not just talking about the supernatural, but the high society life of wealthy English royals. Evie is overwhelmed by the environment she steps into; a first-class flight, a sprawling manor, an opulent bedroom with her very own maid. It any girl’s dream come true.
Despite all the pressure, Evie remains herself. It sets her apart, both literally and metaphorically. There’s something delightfully anachronistic in seeing someone listening to their iPod while jogging outside a Victorian manor house, of FaceTiming from their four-poster bed.
However, there are also several sequences in The Invitation where the manor maids are trapped in the dark, using matches and candles to find their way around. When Evie needs to see, she uses her phone flashlight. It’s wonderful symbolism to show how Evie is the one with the power to end the cycle of tradition, and how she refuses to be compromised by the pressure of those around her.
Tall, Dark, and Handsome
From the very start of The Invitation, it’s very clear that Lord Walter DeVille will turn out to be the bad guy. He’s too charming, too rich, too handsome. And yet, it is really hard to condemn Evie for falling for him.
Evie and Walter, portrayed by Nathalie Emmanuel and Thomas Doherty, respectively, have amazing chemistry on screen. Their banter makes it easier to ignore the red flags as they sail by. One of my favorite moments between them is after Evie has a nightmare, and Walt offers to stay with her until she falls asleep. They talk about what they really want in life—how Evie wants to be able to live her life without restraint, how Walt wants to be seen as his own person rather than the reputation he’s earned himself. Walt’s speech seems incredibly heartfelt, even as it falls on deaf ears when Evie falls asleep. I really hoped they would play into this moment and use it to humanize Walt too. Unfortunately, this soft side is something we don’t really get to see again.
The big reveal of Walt’s true nature frames everything before it as an act. He tricked Evie into falling for him, tricked her into staying, and tricked her into marrying him. On the whole, Walt seems unrepentant. When Evie panics, he belittles her and says she’s embarrassing him. When she tries to run, he disregards it as “getting it out of her system.” When she rejects him, he accuses her of being an ungrateful “modern woman.” He becomes a cut-and-dry villain rather than a nuanced monster.
Personally, I would’ve preferred a take where Walt genuinely loves Evie, and believes she can see him for who he is—a monster that’s not so monstrous after all. I wouldn’t expect him to let her go, but having Walt lean so much into his reputation in the last act was a shame after his feigned emotional depth in the previous scenes.
The Story of Dracula
The Invitation is more than just a gothic romance. It offers a new take and a deeper look into the story of Count Dracula.
If you’re a fan of the original Bram Stoker novel, then you’ll be pleased by the references The Invitation makes to its source material. Many familiar names crop up over the course of the film, including Lucy, Mina, and Jonathan Harker. The plot of The Invitation suggests that the original story ended a little differently, but that’s not the main takeaway of the film.
Instead, the story is focused on three often overlooked characters in the novel: Dracula’s brides. Who are they? What purpose do they serve? How do they play into the overall mythology of Count Dracula? These are questions I definitely wasn’t asking myself before but was fascinated by the proposed answers. The dynamics between the different players in Dracula’s empire are intricate and sound, offering a wider view at the world beyond Stoker’s epistolary novel.
These details allow The Invitation to walk the line between adaptation, continuation, and stand-alone film. You don’t need to be familiar with the original story to follow along. The Invitation does plenty of world-building on its own. It could very well introduce a new generation to an old classic. But, if you are a fan of the original, you’ll get a chance to laugh at the inside jokes and references made in the script.
The Invitation (2022) is now in theaters. Watch the trailer here!