I’m not really invited to dinner parties because I’m that guy.
Karyn Kusama’s paranoid thriller The Invitation opens with Will (Logan Marshall-Green in his best Tom Hardy costume) and his girlfriend Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi) winding their way through the Hollywood Hills, headed to a dinner party at the well-appointed home of Will’s ex-wife Eden (Tammy Blanchard) and her new husband David (Michiel Huisman). Upon their arrival, Will and Kira are greeted warmly if a touch awkwardly by their hosts, as well as by a group of old pals. Small talk is lubricated by many glasses of wine, and by Eden and David’s almost too forceful insistence that their guests have a good time. As social niceties are teased and stretched in unimaginable ways, the film doles out Will and Eden’s earthly woes—namely, that they were once a loving couple and split up following the death of their son Tye. Unsure what to make of Eden’s invitation to begin with, Will grows increasingly suspicious that there’s something nefarious afoot, a great provocation when David objectionably screens a video of a woman dying on her deathbed. This is our introduction to Eden and David’s “cult” that they like to call The Invitation.
The film asks, among other things: how much madness are we willing to put up with to appear socially acceptable? “Why is everyone being so fucking polite?” spits Will at the dinner table. Kusama draws us deep into his paranoid spiral and bafflement, while simultaneously forcing us to question his neuroses. Does David lock his front door with a key from the inside to keep the baddies out, or because he’s holding everyone hostage? Is it a mere coincidence that no one can seem to get a good cellphone reception on this property? And why did David and Eden invite the mysterious Sadie (Lindsay Burdge), an aggressively unhinged young woman with an air of hippie hedonism—the very picture of someone who went to Burning Man and never came back—and Pruitt (John Carroll Lynch), the misplaced older man who projects a domineering-father vibe that’s as eerily menacing as it is disconcertingly polite? The presence of these guests that none of the friends recognize portends doom. As the night wears on, The Invitation ratchets up the tension and tightens the screws, of course, and the simmering dread explodes into unspeakable violence.
The Invitation opens in select theaters and will be available On Demand on April 8.
Logan, I went back and watched the movie a second time because I heard that you hid an Easter egg in one of the scenes. I haven’t found it and it’s absolutely killing me.
Logan Marshall-Green: Well, I don’t want to give anything away. I’m not going to show you the Easter egg, but I will say that it’s in act three. It’s in Tye’s room.
Emayatzy Corinealdi: An actual egg?
Logan: It’s like a secret. What would you call it? It’s a shout-out to the director.
Did Karyn [Kusama] know you’re doing that?
Logan: Oh, everything runs through Karyn. It’s very subtle. Even with what I’ve just given you, you’d be hard-pressed to see it. You have to look very closely, but when you see it, you’ll know.
Emayatzy How come I don’t know about this? I thought you tell me everything.
The Jonestown Massacre will inevitably come up if you start discussing cults of any kind. The wine brings to mind Kool-Aid, especially when Will starts slapping drinks out of people’s hands. Where do you position the core of this film in a larger sense? And if that’s open for interpretation, what angle do you find the most interesting on a personal level?
Emayatzy: For me, this film is all about grief and how people process their grief. You have Eden and David who have decided to deal with their grief in the form of this “cult,” whether knowingly or unknowingly for Eden. Then you have Will who’s trying to deal with his grief in his own particular way. I think, if anything, the film is a commentary on what can happen if you aren’t in some kind of control over your grieving process. It can get away from you and you can end up in situations that you maybe didn’t realize you were in, and do things you didn’t realize you were doing. So that’s how I see the film, and then you have the other elements like cults.
Logan: I agree. I don’t see it as a commentary on cults. I don’t see it as a commentary on L.A. even. I see it as a story about people with dreams and without dreams, and where you go before and after. It’s about who you seek out and where you place it.
What formed the foundation of your research going into this? Where do you start?
Emayatzy: Well, we had two days of rehearsals where we got to talk out the story and characters. Karyn also had a great lookbook that did a lot of the work for us in terms of how she saw the story playing out and what the world that these people lived in was like. And living in this house together the whole time helped to create the world and the reality of it as well.
Logan: I can’t say it was research, but it was emotional “research” for me. I’d just had a boy right before, and I have a little girl as well. So it was very easy for me to tap into the what ifs and try to understand, without taking it home, what it would be like to lose somebody I love in that kind of relationship. It was readily available to me, that internal monologue.
This is an incredibly photogenic house, and unexpectedly creepy considering how beautiful it is. What did you imagine the house would look like when you were first reading the script?
Emayatzy: It was pretty close to what I pictured, although I did imagine a sterile house that was bigger with more lines. This house had a 70s vibe to it, but still had that same feeling of being eerie without being so modern and architectural, on the inside anyway. The 70s vibe was something that I didn’t anticipate, but it added a lot to the world that these characters are living in.
Logan: I remember having a conversation with Karyn and the writers, Phil [Hay] and Matt [Manfredi], that the script was written with a very post-modern, white, sterile house with harsh lines and lots of glass in mind. But when they found this house, I think everything actually suddenly made sense about the script. There was obviously a lot of taboo about cults in the 70s. It all played well together. I think it was a happy move away from what was originally intended.
The film asks, among other things: how much are we able to withstand when we’re surrounded by people and worldviews that are so vastly different from our own, to maintain a certain decorum and social etiquette. Can you recall a time that’s happened to you?
Emayatzy: I’ve certainly been in that kind of situation before, where you’re amongst a group of people that you don’t necessarily know. And if it’s an uncomfortable situation, what do you do? How do you still be polite but maybe try to extract yourself from that situation? I just really try to, casually, keep making my way to the door as the dinner is kind of continuing. It’s like, “Alright, guys. I gotta get outta here.” But inevitably somebody will come over and try to coax you into staying. I haven’t felt a sinister vibe quite like what’s depicted in the movie, but I’ve certainly had that feeling amongst a group where I didn’t really want to stick around. It’s awkward.
Logan: Yeah, I’m not really invited to dinner parties because I’m that guy.
Emayatzy: You’re the guy! [Laughs]
Logan: So I’ll say I’m always in that situation.
It’s always interesting to hear what lasting memories people take away from working on a film because it’s rarely something that we can actually see up there on the screen. Emayatzy, can we start with you? What was the big takeaway for you from this particular shoot?
Emayatzy: I walked away saying, “No dinner parties with people I don’t know, in the Hills.” Things can get sketchy up there. It’s already tough to navigate your way up there. You usually have to park your car somewhere else and get a shuttle. You can get stranded up there. I never thought about that before this film in terms of what L.A. can be like, and the Hills and everything. You have to be aware of your company, the company that you keep. This is something that you grow up hearing. This is something your parents tell you: “Be aware of who you’re with.”
Logan: We all got on really great. Nobody knew each other, except maybe the few of us. But we definitely knew each other after it was all over. This is one of the things I took away: how well we drew those lines of demarcation once the cameras started rolling. That’s an important quality in this ensemble. Since you’ve seen it twice now, you’ll notice the intricate lines between people who are familiar and not familiar to one another, and which friends choose which side in Will and Eden’s divorce. That was something that we had to shed when the cameras weren’t rolling because we got on so well. We just wanted to be in each other’s business all the time.
There’s this quote in the movie: “They’re a little bit weird, but this is L.A.” What do you make of that line? Can these characters believably exist elsewhere?
Logan: That’s a good question.
Emayatzy: I think they definitely could. L.A., again, has this thing with the Hills and what have you, so I think that’s what makes it slightly more sinister there. But I think that can exist anywhere, like in a city like New York, for example. You have the elite who have made it living in these skyscrapers with a world of people below thinking, “I wonder what it’s like up there.” And people up there, looking down, have their own feelings. I think this group could exist anywhere.
Logan: I don’t think the movie falls apart if you take that line out. The specificity of the location bolsters the imagination because of the history in the Hills with cults, the dreamers and nightmares, but I don’t think it’s a house of cards where you pull that out and it all falls down by any means.
Trying to calm Kira in the ensuing bloodbath, Will tells her, “They’re just people,” when people are in fact the scariest things on the planet. What fears do you guys have?
Emayatzy: Well, I don’t even like to claim it because I’m trying to release it, but spiders for me. It’s something that I fight with on a pretty regular basis. Outside of that, I’m not scared of much. Spiders tend to have an ability to take over me, paralyze me.
Logan: Just like my wife.
Logan: All she’s doing is instilling phobias in our kids.
Emayatzy: Right. [Laughs]
Logan: I think Will needed to harden himself and look at what they can and can’t accomplish when he said that. But personally, I do think humans are the scariest thing. I do a lot of hiking, and as the saying goes, the most dangerous species when you’re out there are human beings. When you hike, bears run from you for the most part. Snakes run from you. Humans walk right past each other and you don’t know what the intentions are. When an animal with reason and self-introspection runs, that’s a scary thing. Humans can be very, very scary.
You’ve both been in the business for quite some time now. You’ve explored a lot of different projects, different roles. Do you still get surprised about the craft and about yourself?
Logan: I hope so. If I ever reach that point, I’ll probably quit. We’re incredibly fortunate to be able to do what we do. I speak for myself, but knowing how humble and wonderful Emayatzy is, I think she’ll agree. We get to go make-believe. The cameras look at us and we’re at the center of the set. We’re allowed to come and go as we please. We’re surrounded by incredible artists. The second that stops happening for me, I’ll probably go and take photos of wildlife.
Emayatzy: Very true, very True.
Can we play a quick game of “I Want” like in the movie? What do you guys want?
Emayatzy: The last time I wanted something… Shoot, I don’t know! Do you have something?
Logan: I want my kids to be happy and healthy. Maybe that’s a nice, full circle back to the movie.
Emayatzy: What do I want, Logan?
Logan: You want this movie to do well. She wants fame and money and stardom! [Laughs] No.