Given the increase of whodunit movies in the last couple of years, it’s starting to become a requisite to be inventive in order to stand out, particularly with the high standard Rian Johnson established with Knives Out. Some films, like Medusa Deluxe and A Haunting in Venice, achieved this thanks to their aesthetic and use of horror beats, respectively. This is not the case with J.M. Cravioto’s A Deadly Invitation, a Mexican entry in the subgenre that offers nothing but is entertaining enough for a lazy Sunday watch.
Adapted from Carmen Posadas’ Invitación a un Asesinato novel, the story follows Agatha (Regina Blandón), the host of a famous true crime podcast who receives a mysterious invitation from her rich half-sister Olivia (Maribel Verdú) for a weekend getaway at a luxury yacht. Invited to this meeting are a handful of Olivia’s acquaintances: her rich ex-husband Carlos (Pedro Damián), her ex-boyfriend actor Cary (Manolo Cardona), charming doctor Figue (José María de Tavira), former friend Sonia (Stephanie Cayo) and hot yoga teacher Naram (Aarón Díaz).
As you may imagine, tragedy soon strikes the group as Olivia appears dead in the middle of the night. Now, with everyone locked up in Olivia’s mansion and with no cellphone service, it’s up to Agatha to find the murderer before an inept policeman returns and interrupts her research.
As I mentioned earlier, A Deadly Invitation doesn’t reinvent the wheel. This is a straightforward whodunit where a detective-esque figure interrogates the suspects and looks for clues in the mansion while a generic mystery score plays in the background. Heck, even Regina Blandón imitates Sherlock Holmes’s classic gestures (using her glasses instead of a pipe) every now and then.
There’s a clear attempt to imitate the vibe of Knives Out, but J.M. Cravioto’s direction is quite bland. He doesn’t take advantage of the setting and the cinematography is rarely used to engage or highlight a narrative beat. The fast tempo might keep you entertained, but it doesn’t give you time to engage in the mystery and form your own conclusions properly.
If it weren’t for the fact that Invitación a un Asesinato was published in 2010, you might’ve thought the set-up was a Knives Out: Glass Onion ripoff. The script isn’t a beacon of originality and other than its language, there’s nothing to set it apart from other whodunits. Its weak effort to tackle social issues soon vanishes and the way Agatha can perfectly explain the backstory of a character with a couple of small clues is quite laughable.
Having said all that, the mystery itself is interesting enough for the cast to elevate it even when their characters are so basic. Pedro Damián is loathsome as a rich ex-husband, Aaron Díaz offers a sensitive performance key to overlook how preposterous the arc of his character is, and both José María de Tavira and Manolo Cardona are endearing; you kind of want their character to be innocent. Maribel Verdú’s melodramatic turn is fun and you get the feeling that the movie would’ve been better if Cravioto had followed suit and turned everything up to 11.
A Deadly Invitation is fine. With a running time of 92 minutes, a classic set-up, and familiar characters, Netflix users and casual fans of the whodunit genre looking for something light will easily devour this movie. It’s a nice and inoffensive watch that despite its lack of originality rarely puts a foot wrong. However, if you want a tougher mystery to solve, you will have to find it somewhere else because there ain’t much of a case in this one.
A Deadly Invitation is now streaming now, exclusively on Netflix.
A Deadly Invitation