karyn kusama 2

Director Karyn Kusama made her directorial debut in 2000 with the critically acclaimed Girlfight. Her sophomore effort was the 2005 adaptation Æon Flux, which she didn’t have enough creative control over. Kusama’s third feature, 2009’s Jennifer’s Body, while divisive, isn’t without its fans. Since making that horror-comedy, Kusama has directed episodes for Halt and Catch Fire and The Man in the High Castle, but after a six-year wait, the director’s newest film, The Invitation, is now opening in theaters.

The unsettling thriller shows a dinner party gone wrong, told from the perspective of a potentially unreliable narrator, Will (Logan Marshall-Green). Written by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, Kusama’s film is driven by an emotional and unsettling atmosphere, an uneasy sense of dread and loss we discussed with the director.

Below, read our Karyn Kusama interview.

The sound in the movie is very piercing at times. What kind of conversations did you have with the sound department about the mood you wanted to evoke?

To me, sound is a crucial component to really any movie going experience, but particularly with suspense films or thrillers. I think you need the audience to become subtly really attuned to the soundscape in like this uncomfortable way. So we talked a lot about creating sounds that you almost sort of can’t hear for a while but you can feel in the landscape a little bit and making it really subtle, then then sort of escalating how much you actually can hear and how much you do need to pay attention. Even with our sort of limited resources, we did our best to create an interesting soundscape for sure.

Right. Sometimes little things don’t hit you until later in the movie. Like, when David and Will are standing in front of a window, David’s face is somewhat distorted, which tells you a lot. The shot might not hit you right away, but maybe subconsciously it does. 

Yes, definitely. And I think the movie overall is definitely working with this sort of subtle, unconscious zone a lot of the time and trying to just be not too overt with the techniques, but just trying to sort of plant feelings for the audience as opposed to sort of banging them over the head with certain meanings, if that makes sense.

Completely. One thing [screenwriters] Matt Menfredi and Phil Hay said was imperative for the film was the three days of rehearsal. What did you learn through that process?

The rehearsal process was so useful for me, first and foremost, to really understand the physical movement of the night. Because we really shot the whole movie in that house and had to be…just had to be kind of confined to the house. I just needed to understand the space really well and understand sort of where characters were moving to, when they kind of departed from the group, departed from the action, and when they wanted to kind of be a part of things again. All of that stuff just made the night feel more real to me once we could kind of make those decisions.

And then, beyond all that, we were able to sort of start working out the emotional beats in the actors so there was a bit of a shorthand once we were shooting. It was just so great to have that extra time.

Shooting in that house with that ensemble cast, did you try to use a small crew?

It’s funny, because I kept saying to everybody, “Oh, the crew has to be tiny. It has to be a skeleton crew.” My producers were just like, “Yeah, yeah. Everyone says they want their skeleton crew until the skeleton can’t move or function because there aren’t enough people there to do all the stuff that needs to get done.”

It ended up being a pretty big crew. I mean not a huge crew, but I would say there were always an additional 30 or 40 people just milling about doing their jobs. It was a tight environment, but we really kind of made it work for that sort of family feeling, in a way. And that was really great. It was a really good experience.

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