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The Movies That Changed My Life: ‘The Invitation’ Director Karyn Kusama

The Movies That Changed My Life: ‘The Invitation’ Director Karyn Kusama

When director Karyn Kusama made her debut with “Girlfight” in 2000, which took home prizes from Sundance and Cannes, she was immediately noticed as a director to watch. The filmmaker soon tried different kinds of projects, going blockbuster with “Aeon Flux” and tackling the Diablo Cody-penned horror comedy “Jennifer’s Body.” And this weekend, Kusama returns with “The Invitation,”one of the season’s best thrillers.

READ MORE: Fantasia Review: ‘Girlfight’ Director Karyn Kusama’s Tense, Single Setting Thriller ‘The Invitation’

Starring Logan Marshall-Green, Tammy Blanchard, Michiel Huisman, Emayatzy Corinealdi and John Carroll Lynch, the largely single setting, nerve jangling movie centers around a dinner party reunion for a group of friends that winds up taking a sinister turn. To say any more would ruin the immense fun of the picture, so do yourself a favor and watch it with the biggest crowd possible.

The Playlist recently caught up with Kusama for the latest installment in our “The Movies That Changed My Lifefeature series. She discusses the wide range of movies that made an impression over the years, ranging from “Fantasia” to “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” to “Eraserhead.”

The first moviegoing film experience you can remember
One of the many re-releases of “Fantasia.” Though the film is animated, it isn’t strictly for little kids. The music has sweep and power and some beautifully designed sequences —particularly of an evil overlord whose shadow looms over an entire town— are genuinely scary and surreal. Images from that film are definitely still stuck in the recesses of my brain.

The best moviegoing film experience you ever had

That’s a tough one. How can anyone really choose? Probably Lukas Moodyson‘s “Together.” I was living in a communal household when I saw the film, so the themes of idealism and progressive politics inevitably getting mucked up by the messy needs of the heart really rang true for me and made me laugh. That’s a perfect film. One of the best, most effortlessly “feel-good” endings of all time.

The first film you saw that made you realize you wanted to be a filmmaker

I was just starting film school when I saw Jonathan Demme‘s “Something Wild.” That film, with its easy humor and screwball set-up (hapless finance guy Jeff Daniels meets wild bohemian Melanie Griffith: nutty road trip ensues) does something so unexpected and shocking with its third act that I had to watch and re-watch it to figure out how we got there. We hadn’t been tricked though —just lulled into a false sense of safety by the expectations we have of genres. When a young and completely electric Ray Liotta shows up (pre-“Goodfellas“!), we should have known we weren’t watching a comedy anymore.

The first film you saw that you realize you could be a filmmaker

When I saw Michael Ritchie‘s “Smile,” I was humbled by its craft and style (because he makes it look so easy) —but Ritchie’s cinematic interests were my own. His affectionate portrait of young girls in a local beauty pageant is filled with interesting faces, almost-too-big performances (Bruce Dern! Barbara Feldon!), and a genuine sense of beauty. The film has a gentle humor, a sense of its own politics and a real love of his characters. I was so inspired by it and I continue to watch it for its many lessons.

The movie that always makes you cry (or the movie that is your emotional comfort food)

Warren Beatty‘s “Reds” was a film I literally saw in the theaters 15 times as a 13-year-old. I still watch that movie to feel the star power of Beatty, Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson; to see what brilliant ensemble casting looks and sounds like; to watch a masterful interweaving of actual historical figures interviewed alongside the actors who played them; and finally, to feel an epic love story made relatable and human. The scene at the train station still makes me gulp with surprise.

The movie that always freaks you out/makes you scared

Elem Klimov‘s “Come and See,” which is about a young boy who joins the Soviet resistance against the Nazis in WWII. If there is a film that more incisively depicts the horrors and brutal absurdities of war, I can’t think it. It’s a surreal nightmare with hallucinatory passages that give me the shivers just thinking about them.

The film you’ve re-watched more than any other

That’s a tough one as well, but I’d have to say I revisit Roman Polanski‘s “Rosemary’s Baby” at least every year. That film is endlessly watchable: funny, scary, and a sly feminist fable about the pitfalls of the patriarchy. I quote it back to the screen as if in a trance.

The movie you love that no one would expect you to love

I think Tobe Hooper‘s “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” is one of the greatest art films of all time. 

The movie that defined your coming-of-age/high school experience

It’s a tie: Martha Coolidge‘s “Valley Girl” and Amy Heckerling‘s “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” Released within a year of each other while I was barely in high school, these two films (both directed by women and without any fanfare around as such) remain peerless comedies which share a deep love for their young characters. Amy and Martha: I bow down in worship.

The movie that defined your childhood

When I was ten, my mom took me and my younger brother and sister to see David Lynch‘s “Eraserhead” in the theaters. She was laughing hysterically while the mewling lamb-fetus of a baby gets progressively sicker (and while the inept parents look on helplessly). My brother and sister became distraught, so they stood outside of the theater weeping while I continued to watch the film through the portal windows of the theater doors. I leave it to a talented psychoanalyst to decipher the meaning of this story.

“The Invitation” opens on Friday, April 8th.

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