Film Corner: The Invitation (2022)

I've always found it harder to review movies I liked than ones I don't like; somehow it's easier for me to lay out nitpicks in an orderly manner than it is to explain in essay form what worked in something that left me Kermit-flailing with joy. I've been ruminating on how to tell you all about movies I've liked lately when I suddenly remembered the wonderful old "Movie Yelling With X and Y" and realized that was precisely the format I've been needing, and immediately roped Kissmate into a Discord where we could yell happily at each other. I'm very happy with the result and I hope you are too!

The Invitation (2022)

Songbird: (singsong) Soooo, now we've seen The Invitation (2022). I sort of knew what to expect because I'd seen the trailer way back in the day (it was quite a hit on Twitter when the trailer was released, if I recall correctly!) and was expecting suspense and probably some sort of vampires. Whereas you went into the movie completely unaware of what it would be about. What did you think?

Kissmate: You told me there was a girl who goes to meet up with new family and vampires are involved. That was all I knew going in. Once we started and all the subtle Dracula hints began, and maids started dropping like flies, I was still a bit surprised by the ending. Not surprised that the handsome asshole was Dracula, just surprised by what he wanted her for.

Songbird: Oh my gosh, the Dracula hints! This was such a fun ride for people who love that book (me!), especially coming down off of the "Dracula Daily" tumblr fun. The house is called "New Carfax" (Carfax Abbey is the estate purchased by Dracula in the book, the sale of which Jonathan Harker facilitates and which is why he later knows where to find the count), one of the brides is named "Lucy" (Lucy Westenra being one of Dracula's most memorable victims), and the Butler is named "Mr. Field" in the movie and credited as "Renfield" in the script/credits (Renfield being Dracula's devoted servant even whilst imprisoned in the asylum run by one of Lucy's suitors). And I'm pretty sure there's a couple named Jonathan and Mina Harker! Just so many delightful Easter Eggs if you're a fan, but you don't have to know the book to enjoy the film.

But, yes!! How applicable is this film to all of us? You're lonely, you're looking for a little human connection, you take one of those Ancestry DNA tests, you find a long-lost cousin, he invites you to Britain to meet the rest of the family (who are all super sweet and super psyched to meet you!), and then it turns out they are planning to marry you off to an ancient vampire (implied to be *the* Dracula) as part of an ancestral tri-bride blood pact codified centuries ago because it turns out that (a) your family is that particular vampire's lawyers, and (b) they don't have a lot of marriageable women at the moment and you showed up in just the nick of time as far as they're concerned. Whomst among us hasn't had that happen?

Kissmate: Oh god, the Alexander Family. You have Oliver, the long-lost cousin, being such a delightful little manipulator. Anyone who knows the red flags are seeing them pop up all over the place from his first scene (he's overly generous to get her to England alone, mentioning the family scandal being something the family is Totally Happy about now, keeps bringing up the hot rich Dracula figure as such a nice guy to know, etc).

And then when she walks into the room to meet her whole Alexander side of the family, the camera is careful to show that only 3 other women are in that room full of men, and they are clearly either serving maids or older women who married into the family (rather than blood relations and eligible debutantes). The elder patriarch even says something about how the Alexanders keep having boys like that's a bad thing. How Evie, a biracial Black woman, didn't fucking run out of the room right then and there is amazing. Like, *I'm* a white man and that room was way too white man for comfort.

I do have, like, ONE nitpick I have about the whole thing, but provided that the bad guys are totally desperate, it might not be fair.

Songbird: Yes! Oliver's manipulation, really the manipulation being practiced by the *whole family*, is just so delightful because it walks that perfect delicate line between "is this overly intimate to the point of being creepy" or "are they just really sweet people who aren't very good at boundaries". I love the conversations between protagonist Evie and her friend Grace because they really tease out those concerns in a realistic way!

Evie and Grace are both Black and they have reasonable concerns about this lily-white British family and whether it's normal for them to be so accepting and overjoyed at finding a Black offshoot of the family. An offshoot created when a ancestral lady of the family had a secret out-of-wedlock biracial baby with a Black footman, no less! They have big meaningful conversations about British colonialism and racism (and I'm convinced that's why some reviewers got pissy about the movie, but that's another thing) and whether Evie should be suspicious of all this positive attention and love-bombing being heaped onto her.

What's your nitpick? I'd love to hear it.

Kissmate: Well, the vampire Alexander Bride died rather than kill and eat the help. And there's no more Alexander women to replace her with. They're fucked, but wait what's this, another Alexander woman found through the magic of the internet and DNA matching! Awesome! But there's a Problem: She's a waitress, and has been for a long time. She's seen helping the serving maids from minute one of her arrival. She even says to them, "if we don't help each other out, who will?" WE. As in she sees herself as one of the hired help. So doesn't that mean THE CYCLE WILL FUCKING CONTINUE? and Evie will starve herself the way the previous Alexander Bride did? Anyone who spends five minutes with Evie can tell she'd rather starve than eat a servant. Did no-one think to consider that?

Songbird: I don't think they *can* consider it, to be honest. Dracula, the brides, and the Alexander family all seem so genuinely puzzled that Evie isn't ecstatic, delighted, *grateful* to be plucked out of artistic obscurity and financial hardship to be given this amazing "gift" of ultra-wealth and eternal life and youth. Down to the very end, I think every single one of these rich people just cannot understand that there are people out there who wouldn't trade a stranger's life for wealth and comfort. Even Lucy, the most sympathetic of them all, says that the previous Alexander Bride (Evie's ancestress Emmaline) was "sick" and "confused". Lucy seems to think that Emmaline got some kind of vampire dementia rather than simply unable to remain a monster-married-to-another-monster any longer than she already had.

I did think it was interesting that Lucy brought up that "women had fewer choices in my time" and Dracula sneers that "modern women" are so ungrateful. There's a lot in the movie about class and gender and social/family pressures. Evie is being pressured by her family to marry Dracula for the good of the Alexander clan, but the pressure doesn't really have any weight behind it (emotionally and psychologically, I mean) because *she doesn't know these people and doesn't care about them*. Like, I can well imagine it may have been hard for Emmaline Alexander to refuse when Dracula came a' courting back in the day because she wouldn't have wanted him to slaughter her people. But Evie? These assholes are strangers to her! So when she gets a chance to run, of course she does! I love that.

Kissmate: You bring up Lucy, and I want to continue that. She's only 100 years old. Women had- Wait. American women had the right to vote by the 1920s era. British women had to wait a couple more decades, right? Don't remember when, but that would explain Lucy's more sheltered views. Was Lucy British? Viktoria was Bangladesh, Emmaline was British. What was Lucy?

Songbird: I think they're all British, regardless of where they call home. Wait. Hang on, what was the list? "At the dinner table, Walter welcomes the three great families: the Billingtons from Whiteby, the Klopstocks from Budapest, and the Alexanders of London." (LINK) ...Oh my god, it's another Dracula reference. London, Budapest, and Whitby are all locations that are meaningful to Dracula in Bram Stoker's novel.

But yes, Lucy is British by birth. As for British vs American suffrage, they were basically around the same time. 1918 for British women and 1920 for American women. (Mind you, this was still just for *white* women. Which Lucy is. But Evie is not.) Though it is interesting that when we talk about, say, women's right to work (for example) we're often talking about *white* women's right to work and ignoring the fact that women of color were already working because they were slaves or servants to the upper classes. So Lucy probably was raised with the expectation that she would marry and her husband would take care of her in exchange for her perfect obedience.

So even if Evie had been raised contemporary to Lucy, they would have been raised with different expectations: as a Black woman in 1920s England, Evie would've had to get work. If she married well then good for her, but she wouldn't have been raised with a "good marriage" in mind as an end goal for her. She would've been taught from day one to work hard and take care of herself. I just think that's interesting, when we're talking about the contrast between "modern women" and women from Lucy's era: it matters very much what social class we're talking about!

Kissmate: That is very true, and Lucy does seem like she was meant for good breeding with nobles, not so much the physical need of busy body and hands. Poor girl.

Complete tangent here, but hear me out: the entire bit with "thorned bars to keep the shrikes out" always had me baffled. Because it wouldn't keep shrikes out! It would do the opposite! Shrikes love to pick up grasshoppers and lizards and impale them on nearby thorn bushes, or metal spikes, and pick off the food from the kabob. So it's a nice little nod to Vlad "Dracula" Tepis the Impaler, but those bars would just attract them, not keep them away.

Also, and I could be wrong, but I swear the bird that flies into the window looks more like a swift than a shrike. Which is the bird her servant is probably named after (Mrs. Swift). So you're being warned about impalement, but then it's a songbird that flies into the window. So many metaphors to put there.

Songbird: The bars on the window are strange. The movie makes a thing of them that never seems to go anywhere. I wasn't sure if it were another Easter Egg (there's no bars on the windows of Dracula's castle in the book, as far as I can recall, but it may be a visual element from one of the many movie adaptations?) or if it had something to do with Emmaline's captivity (do we ever see if the other rooms have bars on their windows) or something else entirely. So the bars were strange to me. If the bird hitting the window is foreshadowing for poor Mrs. Swift then it's one I admit I missed!

Can we talk about how charismatic Walt is, to the point where you're rooting for him and Evie to get together even though you suspect it's not a good idea? Can we talk about Bride Viktoria and how I usually hate womanly "cat fights" in movies, but really she's just embracing being a gaslighting chaos demon as a way to pass the centuries? Delightful.

Kissmate: Regarding the bars, my money is on the captive-keeping option. And yes, we can! That man was 100% Bad Mistake Material. Like, fuck is that actor so pretty! And his smile! Gah, he can turn anyone male-sexual into a mess. It's no wonder he stole Evie's heart. I'm wondering how he keeps Viktoria around, unless he likes her chaotic messes. I can see him getting bored and then she just *does something*, and like that, the evening/eternity is entertaining again.

Songbird: Yeah, I definitely got the impression that Viktoria was the Chaos Bride where he enjoys her tendency to let lose and break things (that he can either join in or have the pleasure of cleaning up), that Lucy was the Gentle Bride where she soothes and pets him when he wants an emotional support teddy bear, and I think he was hoping Evie was going to be the creative, artsy, intellectually-stimulating bride that challenges him and keeps him mentally sharp and active.

Really, I was deeply impressed with the romance! You know, because *vampires*, that Harry-Hook-Playing-Vlad-Tepes is bad news (just like you know that Cousin Oliver probably isn't as friendly as he seems) but they're all very good at emotional manipulation! I love that because I really do expect someone who is hundreds of years old and who relies on lies and manipulation in order to survive to be GOOD at it, and he is!

He's gentle, he's teasing, he's loving, and yet there's those tiny little flashes underneath that I can see as an older, more jaded lover but which I totally would have smoothed over in my younger years like Evie does--like when he says he's not a good guy, just an asshole trying to impress her, and she insists that he's a sweetie and that the tough guy thing is just an act. Sometimes it *is* and act but sometimes it *isn't* and as you get older (and have your heart broken a few times) I think you learn to listen to those little jangling warning bells and remember that sometimes people do tell you exactly who they are.

Kissmate: The three Brides being his Ego, Superego, and Id sound fucking perfect, as well as emotional manipulation being honed after eons of practice. This movie had so much love and thought put into it! Like... art and insight blended very well into a blood wine smoothie.

Songbird: Beautiful. And such a satisfying ending, too, like genuinely really empowering. I loved every minute of it. ❤


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