By Guillermo Azabal
Los Angeles, Aug 22 (EFE).- An African-American woman in search of her roots, a bloodthirsty aristocratic vampire family and a potent game of seduction are the main ingredients of “The Invitation,” which marks Sony Pictures’ latest foray into the suspense and terror genres.
Directed by Australia’s Jessica M. Thompson (“The Light of the Moon”) and starring a pair of young British actors, Nathalie Emmanuel (“Game of Thrones”) and Thomas Doherty (“Gossip Girl”), the picture will inevitably invite comparisons to the highly successful, like-named horror-thriller directed by Karyn Kusama.
“What I love about it is it’s a blend of two genres. To me, it’s a romance-thriller or a gothic-thriller, and I think that’s what sets it apart from other horror films,” Thompson said in an interview with Efe ahead of the film’s United States premiere on Friday.
“I definitely think the horror in it is more of a slow burn. It’s more suspenseful and that’s the kind of horror that I’m drawn to when I watch horror films. But yeah, I think it’s got a little bit of everything for everyone.”
Emmanuel plays the role of Evie, a young New Yorker who after the death of her mother – and having no other known relatives – undergoes a DNA test that leads to her discovering a wealthy, newfound family.
She is invited by a second cousin – Oliver Alexander III – to a lavish wedding at a luxurious Gothic mansion in the English countryside.
But that initially enchanting experience turns into a nightmarish struggle for survival as Evie becomes the target of a sinister plot conceived by Walter, a close friend of the family who tries to reel her in with his powers of seduction.
“She’s a defiant one. She knows what she’s about. She’s smart. She’s a very modern woman in that respect and she’s had to kind of fight through lots of things, so she’s got it in her already. And that’s what was appealing to me that’s she’s kind of got that fight in her,” the 33-year-old Emmanuel told Efe about her character.
The 27-year-old Doherty, for his part, said of Walter that he is “narcissistic” and a “sociopath,” adding that his character is “morally corrupt and is a megalomaniac who seeks validation from controlling other people.”
In the first part of the film, however, Evie is captivated by Walter’s charms and striking good looks and a steamy romance quickly develops.
“Opposites attract, though,” Emmanuel joked, crediting Doherty’s patience and understanding with making their love scenes easier to film.
There are several nods in the movie to the celebrated 1897 Gothic horror novel “Dracula,” with one of the characters even named after Jonathan Harker, a protagonist of Bram Stoker’s masterpiece.
“This script really pulled me in because, one, it was a modern kind of origin story of a bride of Dracula, which I really hadn’t seen done before,” said Thompson, who mentioned Guillermo del Toro’s 1993 film “Cronos” as a major influence on her work in “The Invitation.”
“And I really was compelled to tell the story. But also it was the character of Evie. I really identified with her, a woman who’s living in New York. I moved to New York when I was 24 to become a filmmaker … and I was looking for human connection. And that’s what Evie’s character is all about. So I think that’s a really identifiable trait in her.”
Development of the film began in 2020; it was shot over 40 days in a rural part of Hungary and required six months of editing.
In that regard, Thompson said visual design was one of the most important aspects in terms of achieving the desired final result.
“It’s really about creating that contrast, to me, (between) Evie’s world and Walter’s world. You know, the contemporary and the Gothic. The production designer Felicity Abbott (and I) really worked together with (cinematographer) Autumn Eaken to create that contrast with lights and with colors and with textures,” the filmmaker said.
The film is produced by Emile Gladstone, who served in that same role in one of the most successful horror films of recent years: “The Curse of La Llorona” (2019).
The remainder of the cast consists of Stephanie Corneliussen (“Mr. Robot”), Alana Boden (“Uncharted”), Courtney Taylor (“Boyhood”), Hugh Skinner (“Star Wars: The Last Jedi”) and Sean Pertwee (“Gotham”).