Have you ever watched a film that was so enjoyable that in the midst of watching it you’re already thinking about watching it all over again? That was us when we watched The Invitation directed by Jessica M. Thompson. As I have said a million times before, I have been in desperate need of a good vampire film.
I have always loved vampires and I will take any and all things vampire in my life. However, it has to be a certain kind of vampire. Like I said before, vampires that get turned because of a virus or a genetic experiment gone wrong are not my jam and never have been. That’s probably because I’m more of a fan of the Interview With The Vampire type of vamps. I want the charismatic, sexy, mysterious vampires and that’s exactly what Thompson gave me.
The Invitation is such a surprising and unique vampire film. The premise of the story centers on Evie (Nathalie Emmanuel) a young woman living in New York. She’s an only child and has recently lost her mother. With her mom gone, Evie doesn’t have anyone in her life other than her best friend Grace (Courtney Taylor). Despite how close she and Grace are, Evie still feels like there is a part of her that’s missing because she doesn’t have any other family in her life. That all changes the moment she takes one of those home genetic tests to learn more about her background.
Evie takes the test on a whim and is surprised when she discovers she has a long-lost cousin named Oliver (Hugh Skinner) who is living in England. He just so happens to be in New York and asks to meet up. When they do, he invites her to come to England for a destination wedding which will also give her a chance to meet the rest of her family. Evie is hesitant at first because who wouldn’t be when you’ve just met a family member you know nothing about and they’re trying to get you to hop on a plane to another country.
Oliver is convincing though. He’s a big bundle of positive energy and makes Evie feel so comfortable that she eventually agrees. When she arrives for the wedding, Evie is taken aback by the opulence of the Deville estate where the wedding is to be hosted by the Lord of the manor Walter (Thomas Doherty). The moment Evie and Walter meet, the chemistry is instant and from then on, the story just really takes off.
What was so amazing about this film is that it took two genres and blended them so well. During the first half of the film, we get the full Romance treatment watching Walter just absolutely charm Evie by saying and doing all the right things. I was literally swooning in my chair inside the theatre. I wanted to be the one in Evie’s place. The entire thing gives off Romance novel vibes.
Thompson does such an amazing job of painting this fantasy of what life could be with Walter and you can see how much Evie is falling for him. That’s what makes the transformation to the darker parts of the film such a delicious segue. It feels very symbolic in the way that their relationship is showcased. We have this relationship that seems so incredible starting to develop but then everything changes and this guy she thought was so great does a complete one-eighty. The only difference is that this guy is a vampire.
Thompson and writer Blair Butler really showcased the power imbalance faced by women with this story. Evie is surrounded by men everywhere she goes. The women she does meet are all in subservient roles. You could even say that Viktoria (Stephanie Cornelissen) and Lucy (Alana Boden) are as well. Despite what they want to believe about themselves, they are ultimately at the mercy of Walter and pretty much every man in their family.
Once the relationship shifts between Evie and Walter, it becomes clear that she’s literally in a fight for her life. She works to regain control of it and she finds her own power and strength to do so. She was already a strong woman but being in a situation like this really makes her realize that she can be a powerful force on her own and she doesn’t need to depend on anyone, including Walter to maintain that strength.
This leads me to talk about the powerhouse that is Emmanuel. We’ve loved her since her time on Game of Thrones as well as in the Fast and Furious franchise. It was mind-blowing to learn that her role in The Invitation was her first lead role. That’s almost criminal because her performance in The Invitation was just amazing. Don’t even get me started on how much I loved her American accent.
Emmanuel is beautiful and magnetic onscreen. She’s got a natural charm and she just draws you in. She brought so many layers to the character of Evie. All we can say is, this was not a bad film choice to be the lead of. Especially with Thompson at the helm. In the months leading up to the release of The Invitation, time and time again I would see people saying things like “I’ve seen this film before.” And I wholeheartedly disagree. I have never seen a film like this. What I mean by this is that as a Black woman, I have never seen another beautiful Black woman onscreen playing the lead in a vampire film like this one.
Sure, I’ve seen Vampire in Brooklyn which stars Angela Bassett and Eddie Murphy. That’s one of my favorites but, The Invitation is something entirely different. That’s a huge deal. Thompson herself has said in interviews that she watched a lot of vampire films to be sure she wasn’t duplicating things that had been done before and she succeeded. Not to mention that this is a female-lead project. A female Director, female screenwriter, production designer, and cinematographer. That’s a huge deal.
One of the things that I found interesting about The Invitation is that we never see Walter in full monster form.
There are scenes of him terrorizing the staff, but we don’t see him in his monster glory whatever shape that may be. Whether this was Thompson’s intention or not, it felt purposeful because it made the audience question if he was the one hiding in the shadows at night. Walter is so charming in the daylight, that you do find yourself really wondering if it is him in the dark. That only adds to the psychological thriller aspect of this film.
This brings me to Doherty who is also a standout in The Invitation. This was the first thing that I had personally watched him in (Gossip Girl is next I promise) and he was incredible. He had to play two totally different sides of Walter. On the one hand, we have the charming, swoon-worthy (yes, I know I said this already but it’s true), and sexy guy. Then, we have the hot, devilish vampire Walter who is just oh so bad but it’s intriguing to watch.
Like Emmanuel, Doherty was incredibly magnetic. His eyes draw you in and you cannot stop looking at him. He has that vampire magnetism/sex-appeal thing down. We totally understand how Evie fell so hard for him because we did too. Speaking of Evie and Walter, the chemistry between Emmanuel and Doherty onscreen is literal fire. Their scenes at Evie’s coming out party when she has on the gold dress gave me major feels. I’m still dying over that “When are you going to kiss me?” moment.
Now, let’s close out this review by talking about the setting of The Invitation. The film was shot entirely in Budapest, Hungary though it takes place in New York and England. The locations are stunning. I’m a fan of great cinematography and production design. Both Autumn Eakin and Felicity Abbott just nailed it all. Walter’s estate is gorgeous. From the exterior to the interior, every part of it. It is so important to have good set design especially in a film like this one because the sets are like a character themselves.
While Thompson does an entirely different take on the vampire film genre, I did notice a few things that felt like subtle nods to some films. She’s spoken about some already in interviews, but I picked up on a few of my own. Now, I could very well be grasping at straws here but in some moments, I felt some nods to Fifty Shades Darker, Queen of the Damned, Get Out, and even Interview With the Vampire. Because I don’t want to get into spoiler territory with these references, you’ll just have to watch for yourself and see what you pick up on.
The Invitation is by far one of my favorite films of 2022 and I would not mind going back to watch it for a second or even third time. It’s such an entertaining film that keeps you on your toes. What I love most is that it gave me the vampire film I have been waiting years for and I am happy to add it my list of favorite vampire films of all time.