Kusama, Lynch: Grief and terror collide on screen

'The Invitation' at Alamo Drafthouse

Photos from Friday’s screening of ‘The Invitation’ at the Alamo Drafthouse. To see more,  press the forward arrow on the image above. Photos by John Moore for the DCPA’s NewsCenter.

Noted actor and Denver native John Carroll Lynch, who is in town for an appearance at this weekend’s Walker Stalker Con at the National Western Complex, surprised the director of his newest film on Friday night by popping in for a special screening of The Invitation at the Alamo Drafthouse in Littleton.

Alamo Creative Manager Steve Bessette told the audience a special fan would be introducing Karyn Kusama. It was Lynch, who later joined the two for a Q&A after the sold-out screening of The Invitation and before a separate showing of Kusama’s breakout film, Girlfight. She is also known for Æon Flux and Jennifer’s Body.

Lynch describes The Invitation as “a great, tense thriller” that takes place all in one night in the Hollywood Hills. A group of old friends are reuniting for the first time since a tragedy sent them drifting apart several years before. Their glue had been Will and Eden, who are now divorced and remarried. Suddenly, everyone now has been invited to a dinner party at the house the couple once shared but is now occupied by Eden and her new husband. “And so everyone goes into it with a lot of trepidation,” Lynch said.

More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

The invitation is especially weird for Will (Logan Marshall-Green of Prometheus), who soon becomes convinced his ex-wife and her new husband have sinister intentions. This taut film thus becomes a simultaneous study in grief and paranoia that may or may not be connected.

“When I first read the script, I felt really attuned to the catastrophic influence that grief and sorrow have in our lives, and how close that issue is to me,” Kusama said. “This movie poses an interesting question: What if you decide you don’t have to deal with all of that? Where does that take you? My instinct tells me that it takes you to a place that is even more catastrophic than your original feelings of sorrow. I really wanted to explore what denial looks like on the screen, and this is what it looks like to me.”

And into this Big Chill-like dynamic walks Lynch, who plays an anachronistic stranger named Pruitt who would seem to have no place at this particular table.

John Carroll Lynch in 'The Invitation.' Photo courtesy GameChanger Films.

John Carroll Lynch in ‘The Invitation.’ In the quote above, he is referring to the character played by protagonist Logan Marshall-Green. Photo courtesy GameChanger Films.

“The story is inspired by 1970s thriller horror like Rosemary’s Baby, Don’t Look Now and those more psychological, slow-burn kind of thrillers,” Lynch said in a previous interview with the DCPA NewsCenter. “It’s a story about faith and grief and the dangers of not properly grieving one’s losses. It was an amazing script, and it’s filled with a cast of wonderful actors.”

The Invitation is written by Matt Manfredi and Phil Hay (Clash of the Titans). The large ensemble piece also features Tammy Blanchard (Into the Woods), Michiel Huisman (Game of Thrones), Emayatzy Corinealdi, Michelle Krusiec, Toby Huss, Mike Doyle, Karl Yune, Lindsay Burdge, Marieh Delfino and Jordi Vilasuso.

“Karyn put together a cast of people who represent every style of acting, training and experience, from stand-up comedy to soaps to classical theatre to musicals,” Lynch said. “It was a great experience to work with everybody because it always felt like we were exploring in collaboration.”

Lynch, who now has appeared in more than 100 films from Fargo to Zodiac, made a significant impression on a recent episode of The Walking Dead with a full-hour guest appearance as Eastman, a survivor who lives alone in a cabin in the woods and crosses paths with Morgan Jones (Lennie James).

“John was the very first person we knew we wanted in the film,” Kusama said. “I remember so vividly the day we shot his monologue (about the death of Pruitt’s wife) and looking over at the co-writers. We just shared this silent look. It was just so humbling to be in the presence of greatness.”

Kusama was asked by an audience member about directing her first movie that essentially features a male protagonist (Marshall-Green).

“I never set out to make movies with a female protagonist. I only set out to make movies that have interesting characters,” she said. “I am interested in women’s lives – as I hope all of humanity will soon catch up with me on – but I was really interested in this story.  And in terms of Will being the protagonist, I feel very close to him psychologically. I definitely understood his paranoia and his sense of having to grit his teeth and suffer through this party. For that reason, I wanted to explore my brand of vulnerability and terror in a male character. And for me, that’s my expression of a kind of feminism.” 

This weekend’s Walker Stalker Con is a two-day convention focused around The Walking Dead and other zombie shows, movies and art. It grew out of The Walker Stalkers Podcast. Walker Stalker Con, which goes through Sunday, is described as is a fan meet-up featuring events, panels, and virtual zombie experiences.

​Lynch will appear in several more films in 2016 (The Founder, Furst Born, The White Orchid and Miracles from Heaven) and in June embarks on his first directing job, Lucky, starring Harry Dean Stanton.

The Invitation is being released through Drafthouse Films, and will begin its official run at the Alamo Drafthouse Denver on April 8.

John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.

Karyn Kusama Invitation John Carroll LynchDirector Karyn Kusama and actor John Carroll Lynch of ‘The Invitation.’ Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

Here are excerpts from Lynch’s previous conversation with DCPA Arts Journalist (and former Regis Jesuit High School classmate) John Moore about “The Invitation”:

John Moore: This is not your first film with Matt Manfredi and Phil Hay.

John Carroll Lynch: No. I was in a film of theirs that they directed called Bug. That was a beautiful little film that has no connection to the stage play by Tracy Letts. They are longtime cinefiles and wonderful writers. The Invitation is directed by Karyn Kusama, who is married to Phil. Her first directorial feature was Girlfight, which is a spectacularly good movie.

John Moore: What did you like about The Invitation when you first read the script?

John Carroll Lynch: It’s very offbeat in terms of its rhythm and the way in which the story unfolds. It reads more like a play in terms of its structure, and Karyn did a beautiful job turning it into a movie. There is a patience and a tension asked for in the script that was going to be tough for any director to get, and Karyn nailed it. It’s amazing.

John Moore: So tell us more about your place in the story.

John Carroll Lynch: I play a character who knows Eden and her new husband, who is played by Michiel. What I love is that from the beginning of the movie, the audience is not sure whether or not you are seeing things as Logan’s character is seeing them, or whether you are seeing things as they are really happening. That’s what our director keeps going so beautifully throughout the film. We keep coming in and out of this man’s head, and so you are not quite sure if what you are seeing is really happening.   

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