London Film Festival 2015: 'Don't Grow Up' + 'The Invitation'

Don't Grow Up

Teenagers flee rampaging homicidal adults in Don’t Grow Up, and a dinner party turns vicious in The Invitation, two flawed but interesting thrillers screening in the “Cult” strand at this year’s fest.

Don't Grow Up

Director: Thierry Poiraud
Cast: Fergus Riordan, Darren Evans, McKell David

The Invitation

Director: Karyn Kusama
Cast: Logan Marshall-Green,Tammy Blanchard, Michiel Huisman

John Hughes’s The Breakfast Club (1985) famously offered the dubious wisdom that “when you grow up, your heart dies.” Thierry Poiraud’s Don’t Grow Up takes that notion a few steps further. In Poiraud’s movie, when you grow up, you become a rampaging zombie intent on killing your kids and anyone else in sight.

Screening in the London Film Festival’s “Cult” strand, the French director’s new film unfolds on an unidentified island in which a group of teens are holed up in a “care facility” that’s somewhat reminiscent of the Big Brother house. (The movie also features some direct-to-camera confessions that evoke that show, too.) Venturing outside, the group discovers that the town has been overtaken by an “epidemic” that’s transformed all adults into a bunch of homicidal zombies. The kids are soon fighting and fleeing for their lives, not only from the unruly grown-ups in the town, but also from outlaw groups of gun-toting children who view the teenagers with as much fear and suspicion as the teens view the adults.

An allegory about cusp-of-adulthood anxieties, Don’t Grow Up teeters between the risible and the inventive. The shortcomings of the picture aren’t hard to spot: there are some gaps in plot logic, and the film is too swift in eliminating most of its cast, the better to hone in on a love story between two of the characters.

Yet, while some critics seemed eager to pronounce the movie a total dud, I found myself quite gripped by the film for the most part. What gives the picture some power is that Poiraud is tapping into some primal anxieties here: namely, the disquieting notion that adult care-givers might actually mean you harm. Focusing on a group of teens who’ve already been let down or abused by parental figures, the film suggests that the revelation that all adults are out to get them is but a logical extension of these characters’ fears.

Poiraud also scores in his attention to atmosphere here, making terrific use of the location (it was shot on Tenerife), which he employs for some eerily beautiful effects. The film resists announcing its intentions too early on, moving from grisly thrills to something unexpectedly affecting and redemptive in its final stretch. The style outclasses the story ultimately, but the visual poetry of Poiraud’s surprisingly humane horror movie shouldn’t be overlooked.

The Invitation

There has been much better buzz around The Invitation, the latest film from Karyn Kusama, which focuses on a dinner party going spectacularly off the rails. A group of friends reunites at the well-appointed California pad of Eden (Tammy Blanchard) and David (Michiel Huisman). Among the guests is Eden’s ex, Will (Logan Marshall-Green), the couple having separated following a tragedy in their past. As the evening progresses, though, Will begins to suspect that there might just be some hostility lurking behind Eden and David’s apparent hospitality.

With the action taking place over one night and in one location (except for a prologue), the approach of The Invitation is engagingly theatrical, with aspects that suggest a homage to Agatha Christie. Kusama shows skill in keeping the audience off balance throughout, uncertain as to Will’s reliability as focaliser, and making us guess as to the extent of the protagonist’s paranoia. The plot twists, which by turns justify and undermine Will’s perceptions, are well managed to generate maximum tension (and not a little humour). In addition, screenwriters Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi give a poignant undertow to the picture, as the movie reveals itself to be about different ways of dealing with grief and loss.

In a reverse trajectory to that of Don’t Grow Up, The Invitation starts smart and ends stupidly (a cool punch-line notwithstanding), taking a disappointing lunge into trashy stalk-and-slash territory at the climax. Still, if the pay-off’s not quite as satisfying as the lead-up, Kusama’s confident handling of this odd little huis clos makes the movie an enjoyable ride, for the most part.

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