Saturday, May 6, 2023

Invitation to a Murder: Movie Review

Invitation to a Murder starts with a vague and mostly unoriginal – but still promising – premise, and then doesn’t do much with it. 1930s England, six strangers have been brought together by a mysterious benefactor to spend a weekend at a remote mansion. It’s a common enough start for murder mysteries because there are lot of different angles one can take. Too much time building up the premise, not enough time making it entertaining for the audience.   2023

Directed by: Stephen Shimek

Screenplay by: Gerard Miller, Brian O'Donnell
and Jerome Reygner-Kalfon

Starring: Mischa Barton, Chris Browning

The start looks like it will be reminiscent of last year’s See How They Run, but a distinct lack of comedy quickly squashes those similarities. This is strictly a dramatic murder mystery and plays out a lot slower than it should.

The lead character is Miranda (Mischa Barton) an independent woman who has a job as a florist. She’s smart, detail-oriented, very observant and extremely well-read. She’s personable, determined and confident. And here’s the key: she is not being played up as a joke or even unrealistic and certainly not pitiable. The misogyny of the time is handled casually and Miranda can just shrug it off to make sure it does not overwhelm the movie (something that the flashier See How They Run struggled with). Miranda’s also smart enough to know that a vague invitation with no return tickets is a huge red flag, but where’s the fun in not going? In case this isn’t clear, she’s a fantastic lead character, but I’m also a sucker for smart, strong, independent women in period movies.

The notable other characters include Chris Browning as a sort of gruff Kevin Costner-like American journalist. Miranda’s outspokenness intrigues him, and he proves to provide a good counter-balance to Miranda’s good-natured curiosity. Seamus Dever plays a character who appears to be under-developed (in order for the mystery to work) but he’s a better actor than the role deserves. Let’s just say there’s a twist spotted far too early solely because I knew Dever was giving us more.

This is a movie with a wonderfully spooky, very nicely established setting with some good characters (the lead characters are excellent, the minor characters aren’t as good), but pacing problems galore. Far too long is spent establishing the setting and premise before anything actually happens. We’re approximately half-way through the movie before the plot really begins. And then it starts to drag again before the big main twist.

The main twist is still good, even though it is mostly predictable and comes after much time wasted. But that’s also a mark of a well-written twist. Every clue needed to solve that twist is given to the audience. If you’re paying attention, it’s solvable. Too obvious for some detectives in the audience, but for those that keep losing attention because it drags too much, it’s probably the right level of subtlety.

What ultimately brings the movie down is how they play out that twist. It’s fun and clever and different, and then they just beat it to a pulp. There are more and more reveals to drag out little twists within it, none of which are interesting or even good. It’s a solid idea even if it doesn’t quite add up to a whole movie and then it is dragged out at infinitum and I’d be surprised if many viewers still find it interesting at the end.

There are a lot of well-produced aspects in Invitation to a Murder, but the plot and twist just aren’t interesting enough to hold up through all the pacing problems. It’s mostly well written but too slow and lacking in entertaining diversions.