Directed by Jessica M. Thompson (The Light of the Moon) from a script by Blair Butler (Hellfest), The Invitation is Dracula sung in the style of one of those Hallmark Christmas Royal Wedding TV movies – though it was probably thinking more of Get Out (or Ready or Not). It’s not an unworkable approach – but does make for a dull-ish picture, which is feebler than, say, the direct-to-DVD sequels to Dracula 2000 or the Jonathan Rhys Meyers or Claes Bang TV series.
New Yorker Evie (Nathalie Emmanuel) – a struggling ceramics artist (when she bridled at being called a potter I lost all sympathy for her) — does catering staff gigs to get by and has one single gal pal (Courtney Taylor) to confide exposition in. She takes a DNA test (it was in a goodie bag at an event she stood around with a tray at) and is contacted by Cousin Oliver (Hugh Skinner), of an English branch of the family she didn’t know existed and invited to a swanky wedding party in New Carxax Abbey near Whitby, Yorkshire (the few locals we meet have West Country accents) … which brings her into a world of luxury décor, four-poster-beds, super frocks and charming paperback romance cover guys. She instantly resents the way butler Mr Field (Sean Pertwee) – whose first name is Ren – treats the number-tagged maids but warms up to her host, Mr Walter de Ville (Thomas Doherty), who has a Sean Connery circa 1962 smile and Udo Kier in Blood for Dracula hair and goes on a complete charm offensive that prevents Evie noticing all the red flags. The mansion has a lot of gothic décor, her personal maid (Carol Ann Crawford) is terrified or terrifying, guests sometimes wear Eyes Wide Shut masks at dinner, a shrike batters itself to death on the barred window, terrible things happen to maids sent to the library or the wine cellar, and no one says who exactly is getting married. Evie also meets haughty, rude Viktoria (Stephanie Corneliussen) and yapping, clingy Lucy (Alana Boden), the other maids of honour, and learns that three families have served de Ville (Dracula’s underused cover name from the novel) and traditionally a woman from each is married to him.
So, yes, this is a whole film about those three women who bother Jonathan Harker – he’s in this too, played by Jeremy Wheeler – at Castle Dracula, explaining who they are and what function they serve beyond the obvious. In a prologue, the previous bride (Virag Barany) from Evie’s clan commits suicide, leaving a gap in the roster that the whole film is about filling. Lucy, incidentally, isn’t Lucy Westenra: this namedrops bits of Stoker but fits the pieces together differently. Doherty, whose first acting gig was as ‘Street Boy # 2’ in an episode of that Jonathan Rhys Meyers TV Dracula show, is a charismatic plank, who spends too much time being a charming fantasy boyfriend to make anything of his late-in-the-day turn into not-very-ferocious, not-very-fearsome vampire kingpin. It’s a story which requires everyone to act like a complete idiot to keep the wheels spinning – a cadre of vampire disciples as much as a nitwit singleton from New York. Only Pertwee, as an evil version of his Alfred from Gotham, makes much of an underwritten minion role, seething at the upstart interloper. Corneliussen does nasty foreign aristo and Boden English doormat tagalong, but their characters are thrown away.