Script Analysis: “The Invitation” — Part 1: Scene By Scene Breakdown

Read the script for the acclaimed indie thriller and discuss this week.

Reading scripts. Absolutely critical to learn the craft of screenwriting. The focus of this bi-weekly series is a deep structural and thematic analysis of each script we read. Our daily schedule:

Monday: Scene-By-Scene Breakdown
Tuesday: Plot
Wednesday: Characters
Thursday: Themes
Friday: Dialogue
Saturday: Takeaways

Today: Scene-By-Scene Breakdown. Here is my take on this exercise from a previous series of posts — How To Read A Screenplay:

After a first pass, it's time to crack open the script for a deeper analysis and you can do that by creating a scene-by-scene breakdown. It is precisely what it sounds like: A list of all the scenes in the script accompanied by a brief description of the events that transpire.

For purposes of this exercise, I have a slightly different take on scene. Here I am looking not just for individual scenes per se, but a scene or set of scenes that comprise one event or a continuous piece of action. Admittedly this is subjective and there is no right or wrong, the point is simply to break down the script into a series of parts which you then can use dig into the script's structure and themes.

The value of this exercise:

  • We pare down the story to its most constituent parts: Scenes.
  • By doing this, we consciously explore the structure of the narrative.
  • A scene-by-scene breakdown creates a foundation for even deeper analysis of the story.

This week: The Invitation. You can download a PDF of the script here.

Written by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi.

Plot summary: While attending a dinner party at his former home, a man thinks his ex-wife and her new husband have sinister intentions for their guests.

The Invitation
Scene-By-Scene Breakdown
by Joni Brainerd

p. 1 Open on an empty back yard overlooking the Hollywood hills. And the SOUNDS of a BBQ/pool party — kids splashing, grill sizzling — but we see nothing — no kids, no adults — but a peaceful, quiet yard.

p.1–4 At dusk, on a twisting road climbing into these hills is a car driven by WILL (30's, haunted quality to his eyes). With him is KIRA (30's, capable, watchful). She asks if he's okay, says they could just go home, mentions something about "being in that house again". Will assures her it'll be fine. Kira holds an invitation, to "Celebrate with David and Eden." They discuss who else might be there, making it clear nobody has seen "her" (Eden) for two years. We learn David and Eden met at grief group — something, clearly, not Will's cup of tea. We garner Will is divorced from Eden. Suddenly, an animal darts out — THUD!! Is hit by their car.

p.5–6 Will goes, finds he's hit a coyote. Not yet dead, but… Will gets a tire iron from trunk and, much to Kira's shock, he puts the animal out of its misery. Back in the car afterwards, Will exclaims: "How the fuck can she go back to that house?" Meaning Eden. Kira reminds him people deal with things in different ways.

p.6 Will and Kira drive up a narrow, dark, twisting road. They pass but don't see: beside the road are lines of parked, closely packed cars. In one — also unseen by them — a man sits, waiting…

p. 7–10 They arrive at Will's former house. A gem. Eden's family's money. Arriving on the porch, Will has a flash of memory — of a little boy, at this same house, years ago. Flash over, he and Kira enter, and meet up with several of Will's old friends: Gina, Tommy & Miguel (couple), Claire, Ben (former business partner of Will's). Not here yet is Choi, Claire's boyfriend. And then: Eden, an beauty, who greets Will warmly. She notices a bit of blood (the coyote's) on Will's face.

p. 11 We meet DAVID, good-looking, distinctive leather bracelet. Another memory flash: from "therapy", where Will and Eden first met David. He's a gracious host, and excited about "so much to celebrate."

p. 12 A fuss is made over some ultra-expensive wine David has made available for the occasion. Choi still isn't here, but glasses are raised/toasts made without him — about this reunion.

p. 13 During David's welcome/toast, Will notices a girl (early 20's) lingering in nearby hall. She seems to be staring at Will. David's toast is about "a journey" they're on, a journey they should all be on together, a new start. The girl, SADIE, enters, grabbing at David's glass and kissing at his neck .. to everyone's unease and bewilderment. She wears the same leather bracelet.

p. 14–15 Eden explains she and David met Sadie in Mexico and the girl's staying with them a while. She seems to know about the guests. Kira breaks an uncomfortable silence, telling them about the coyote. David remarks Will's killing the animal was mercy.

p. 15 -17 Will gets a glass of water in kitchen, has another flashback: to Eden coming into the kitchen with slashed wrists. Back to present, Eden startles him. She compliments how beautiful he and Kira are, and Will helps her get glasses from cabinet, commenting on the BARS on the windows, which Eden says were added for safety when she was there alone. Will notices a leather bracelet on Eden's wrist too. She says they got the bracelets in Mexico. She asked if he ever thought about her, then tells Will he doesn't need to worry about her anymore — she's doing fantastic. He seems surprised she can be back in this house, but she mentions how she's "different" and "free" and how anyone can be rid of their "useless pain." The strange moment is broken up when Ben comes in.

p. 18–19 Eden continues her diatribe to Ben — about how "pain is optional". Ben tells her she sounds like a pamphlet. When Ben calls her crazy, Eden slaps him. Eden leaves and Will asks Ben if she's been this way the whole night. Ben calls it "Topanga Canyon new-agey beautiful everything bullshit" and yes, she and David both have.

p. 20–21 Will asks Ben about his wife/kids. Ben shares things with his wife aren't so good. They rejoin others in living room, where Eden tells Ben their little moment is already forgotten. Will notices David off my himself, on a cell, and then peering out the front window.

p. 22–23 Will and Claire catch up a bit. We learn she got tenure at UCLA about a year ago. Clearly, Will missed the party…

p. 23–26 When a car arrives, David goes outside. Some wonder if it's Choi finally showing up, but instead it's PRUITT, unknown to guests. Sadie makes a big production of his presence; she can't believe he's really here. Others introduce themselves to Pruitt. Gina asks David if Choi by chance called them to say he'd be late, but David says no, that he thought they were coming together. He also says they don't have cell service up here — this, of course, alerts Will, who saw David on his phone just a bit ago. David tells Gina to maybe step onto the deck and try calling Choi from there — best chance at service. Will sees David deadbolt the front door…. When Will asks why he doesn't just leave the key in the door, David says something about recent home invasions in the area. Will still is bothered by this, but David says it's his house now and he keeps things a different way. Eden asks Will if he'll go fetch firewood for her.

< /blockquote>

p. 26–28 As we see Will heading outside, we hear Eden asking Kira if he's been like this a lot, i.e. so agitated. She keeps asking questions which make Kira uncomfortable. Outside, Will walks around the pool, lit-up canyon houses in both directions. Beyond the pool, about fifty yards out, the grass of the property just sort of drops off, disappears into the night. Will doesn't go out there…. he hears a SCREAM, and the sounds of chaos, but — they're from the past, not from now. When he turns around, he sees Eden — she's inside, in a bedroom, lit up like a diorama. He sees her pulling something from her pocket, but he can't see what. She's obscured for a moment, and when he sees her again, there's nothing in her hands. The light goes off. Will loads wood into carrier, takes it inside.

p.28- 30 Will goes to the bedroom to look around. Goes to bedside table. It's wrong, but he snoops, looks inside. Finds an unlabeled BOTTLE OF PILLS. He plucks one out and pockets it. Leaving, he runs into David, who comes into bedroom, deadbolts door to the outside, then leaves again, telling Will to rejoin them when he's ready. Passing the bathroom, Will flashes back to years ago, to he and Eden taking a bath together. And their son, TY, peeking in and giggling. In this flashback, they discuss their son needing a brother.

p. 31–32 Hearing Gina scream, Will rejoins others. Gina tells Will "They're in a cult!" David assures them it's not a cult. Miguel says he's heard of "The Invitation" and asks if they're a part of it, and Eden/David/Sadie all confirm they are, and that's why they were in Mexico. David tries explaining what it is — people who've lost someone, coming together to help each other. When Miguel asks what goes on, David says he has something to show them. They all realize THIS is what they're here for — some sort of sales pitch. Tommy jokes about the locked doors being part of the "conversion" thing.

p. 33–36 The group watches a video on David's laptop — featuring some DOCTOR JOSEPH, showing off a spa-like campus in Baja and talking about healing and transformation and transcendence. Also on the video: Annie, gaunt and sickly, surrounded by others whispering names of lost loved ones. Doctor Joseph tells Annie she can be rid of her pain, her grief. It's her choice. She can have reunion. On the video, followers are told by Joseph not to cry when Annie dies — but to celebrate, that she's safe. She's with the lost loved ones.

p. 36–39 Video over, a room of stunned guests. Did they really just watch someone die? Eden assures them it was real. Annie, though young, had cancer. Will asks WHY would they show this at a dinner party?!? Pruitt says how it's about communion. David says Doctor Joseph helped him, how he used to be a coked-up mess. That The Invitation is about free will and choosing to be happy. Eden says this saved her life. The doorbell rings. Gina says that better be Choi.

p. 40–44 Will watches David, talking to someone unseen. Gina rambles on, Will hearing none of it. David returns, claiming it was a couple looking for some party. Will has a chance to ask Miguel about the pill, and is told it's Phenobarbital, for anxiety, or insomnia. When David joins them, Miguel spills the beans: "Will thinks you guys are on pills." David says a lot of people think they're crazy. Will is no less unnerved by how odd this night is.

p. 45–50 David suggests they play a game, kind of like "I never" except it's "I want_________" Sadie goes first, a long rambling affair how she loves everyone here. Gina says she wants some of that coke David used to do and he says he still has some and gets it for her. Pruitt tells a story about his wife, how he'd been drinking and they had an argument and he hit her with something and she died. Tells it matter-of-factly — much to everyone's "what the fuck" consternation. Pruitt says he went to prison, and after, finding The Invitation. That he'll see his wife again soon. Ben asks what he means, like "in Heaven?" Pruitt explains about forgiveness. Others are on alert now — how very disturbing this all is.

p. 51–55 Claire says she feels like Pruitt and David are trying to sell them something. Eden continues the "I Want" game, saying she wants to kiss Ben. Yet another odd moment… Claire says she wants to leave. David tries to get her to stay. Will asks him why he can't just let her leave and David explains Eden's been planning this evening for so long. But, finally, David removes key from pocket and Claire is allowed to leave. Pruitt asks which car and claims he's parked behind her, so he heads out to move his car as the others go on about getting more drinks. Will, though, watches from the window, despite Kira trying to get him to come over to her. He watches as Pruitt moves his car, Claire backs out and drives away, but then he sees brakes lights and Pruitt hop out and run toward her car, waving. But then Will's view is obstructed, and David urges Will to come talk with him.

p. 56–57 David says he's happy Will's here, that he and Eden chose him because he's important to them. Will asks: "You chose us?" But then David chastises Will for being so suspicious of their hospitality, for watching out the window, for scaring Eden. Pruitt returns, hands now in a jacket pocket, claiming for tried convincing Claire to stay, that he was sorry he scared her. He dismisses himself to wash up for dinner, never removing hands from jacket pockets.

p. 57–60 Dinner. Various conversations. More flashbacks for Will. As conversations go on, Will flashes to a child's birthday party in the back yard — to his son Ty, roughhousing with a slightly older boy. And Will running through people, reaching Eden, on her knees, screaming…

p. 60–63 Will leaves the table. Gets fresh air on patio. Back inside, he hears something, heads to bathroom, where water's running and where he finds Sadie before mirror, making awful faces at herself, like screaming but with no sound. Sadie sees him, follows him back out to patio, where she comments about how things aren't so great with Kira and him. He doesn't know why she'd say such a thing. Says he wants to make a call, he'll be inside soon. Sadie doesn't leave, says something about how he could fuck her if he wanted. She touches him, hikes her up skirt, talks about Mexico, says that's how it was there, people just "going for it." Will dismisses her and Sadie goes back in.

p. 63–65 Will is confronted by Tommy, who engages in a strange chat about how Will should probably go home, but then that he should stay, that it's safe now. That he wants Will to start living again. Tommy heads inside and Will's phone, finally seizing some coverage, chirps, alerting him to a message. It's from Choi, who called hours earlier, arrived at Eden's house early, but forgot the dessert and can't get a hold of Gina so could Will get some on the way? So .. Will realizes Choi had been here.

p. 65–69 Back inside, Will joins the others. The lights suddenly go off. But then .. there comes David and Eden with a birthday cake for Miguel. As Miguel's about to blow out the candles, Will asks where Choi is. Where the fuck is Choi? He says he just got a message from Choi and that he was here at seven, and called from here. Eden and David say they've not seen him. They swear he never got here. Will's determined he did. Gina's freaking out, doesn't know who to believe. Will unloads about Pruitt — who is this guy and why is he here? How something strange is going on and no one is saying anything. He unleashes about how no one's seen Eden for two years and now here we are and what's going on. The Invitation??? It's a fucking cult! The video? It's brainwashing! Pruitt tries settling Will down. David too. Will is freaking everyone out, Kira included.

p. 69 Will asks David why all the doors are locked. Why are there bars are the windows? Why do they have Phenobarbital? Eden realizes he's gone through their things. Kira, upset, says they go go. Will unloads more — about how strange this night all is but everyone's ignoring it because David opened some great wine! Amidst all this, a KNOCK at the door.

p. 70–72 It's CHOI! Gina runs to him. Kira buries her head in her hands. Will is in utter shock. Choi explains he got here but work called and they can't do anything without him and he left and he's sorry and… Choi is escorted back to the dinner table. Everyone looks at Will. So confused, so in shock, Will apologizes. Says it's difficult for him to be here. Eden isn't pleased he's been so distrustful but she forgives him. Of course, Choi doesn't understand anything that's going on. Will excuses himself for a moment.

p. 73–75 Outside, Kira and Will talk. She tries to persuade him to "let it go", that they're "with our friends". But, seeing he's still not quite right, she says they should just leave. He says he can't. She's confused — — he can't stay, he can't leave. Will admits he's not okay. His son is dead and he's not dealing with it well at all. Nothing helps. He feels guilty. That he'd not been watching Ty well enough that day. The boys were just playing. Horsing around. Will tells her he's been waiting to die since the moment the accident happened. Kira feels awful she can't help him.

p. 75 Kira goes in and Will stays out back a bit longer. He stands at railing, peering out at city below. Voices inside are barely heard. There's a rustling somewhere in the dark down below Will, but he doesn't react, doesn't seem to hear it.

p. 76 But we do. And we move down… down to the brush below, where we find Claire. She's bloody, her body twisted. She's unable to speak. The only sound she can make is her finger twitching the brush. Which Will — overhead at the railing — cannot hear.

p. 76–78 Inside, Will asks to go see Ty's room. It's now a study. Will flashes to when it was a bedroom, his sleeping child. Back to present, Will sees David outside — out back by the railing now, lighting something. It's a decorative RED LANTERN. Huh? Inside, Will spies David's laptop. Drawn to it. Can't stop… A video. Doctor Joseph. Will leans to hear the man's voice. It's calm, hypnotic. Doctor Joseph speaks about how "tonight is the night our faith is made real." Will is interrupted by Pruitt, outside the study, knocking at rattling the locked door, saying everyone's waiting.

p. 79–81 Will walks in front of Pruitt back to the dining room. He takes a seat with the others. Everyone has a glass of port and David's about to make a toast. He asks them to hold each other's hands. Eden is shaky pouring the port. David makes toast about "a better world to come" and soon, Will freaks yet again, standing up and imploring them all to NOT drink the wine. He slaps drinks out their hands. Pruitt tries to stop him. Tommy too, tries calming Will down. But Will wants to leave. Eden tells Pruitt to let him go. Kiri's ready too. And Ben.

p. 81 David, strangely calm, suggests everyone just take their drink and let's move on… Once more Will yells for them to NOT drink and Sadie is pissed, says how Will's ruining everything.

p. 82–83 Sadie charges Will, clawing wildly. They collide. He lashes out and she loses her balance, cracking her head on a piece of furniture and crumpling to the floor. Miguel immediately goes to check on her. Kira and Eden stare at Will — — what did you do?? Pruitt forces Will to sit. Miguel says to call 9–1–1. Out of the blue, Kira says "She's not breathing." But instead of Sadie, she means Gina, who is slumped over in her chair, her empty glass on the floor nearby. Choi scrambles to her. Miguel darts over, they get Gina to the floor, where he checks for pulse and starts CPR. Ben tries cell for 9–1–1 but can't get a signal. Across the room, Sadie stirs. Miguel's doing mouth-to-mouth when David and Pruitt start whispering in something that sounds like prayer.

p. 84 Miguel bends over Gina for another breath when suddenly he slumps atop her — — and behind him is David, holding up a smoking pistol. He's just shot Miguel, appears shocked that he has. But then — — he turns the gun toward the others!! Next thing we know, it's chaos! Will springs from the chair, slipping Pruitt's grasp. Tommy charges David but is met by Sadie, who's someone risen and grabbed a knife from the table — — she slices Tommy and blood flies everywhere. Choi runs for a door, but David and Pruitt chase him. And Sadie, she's now over and plunging a knife in Gina!!

p. 85–86 Somehow, Will and Kira run. Behind, Pruitt pins Choi to the floor, takes gun from David and shoots Choi. Ben's running too. He and Will and Kira manage to scramble down some stairs. They run down a hallways, trying to find an unlocked door. Now here's Sadie — giving chase, wielding that knife, lashing out. Somehow, Will and Kira slip into a dark room, lock it, push something in front of the door. The room's filled with boxes — Ty's life packed away. Outside the room is Sadie, bashing about and emitting primal, guttural noises. Kira breaks a window, tries to find release for the bars. Outside, we see Ben — he's launched a chair through plate glass door and is hobbling across flood-lit back yard. Chased by David, who drags Ben down and stabs him. Pruitt reaches them, shoots the pleading Ben.

p. 87–89 Inside, Will and Kiri duck out of sight. They must escape. Must be prepared to fight. They sneak upstairs, overhear David and Eden. She's a mess and he's trying to calm her. She's all "It wasn't supposed to be like this. We were supposed to go to sleep and go there together." David tells her it'll be over soon. She must help him.

p. 90–91 Will and Kira find Sadie, down, bloody, stunned, grasping a fireplace poker. Will takes it from her. They try to find a way out in the screening room. No luck. The door's no longer a door. Bars on the windows. There's a cabinet, though — — where Kira finds bullets, but not gun. Here comes Pruitt! Will throws the poker at him, and Pruitt drops the gun. Will charges him, kicks gun out of the way. He and Pruitt struggle, Will winding up in some sort of choke hold. Kira attacks but Pruitt bats her away. He continues choking Will and Kira crawls toward dining room. Will is weakening, his kicking and punching losing their strength. Here comes Kira — — she smashes the side of Pruitt's face with the wine bottle. Pruitt releases Will and slumps over. Kira continues bashing him with the bottle.

p. 91–93 Will and Kira help each other move away, but there's Eden, in the dining room, holding the gun. She fires. Will's body falls out of frame. Eden stares, stunned. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry." Will's clutching at bloody neck. Kira rises. Seeing her, Eden raises gun. But then turns it around, shooting herself in the chest.

p. 94 Determined to get out of there, Will and Kira hear David calling for Eden. Will tells Kira she has to get the gun. Will hollers to David that Eden's shot herself. David says "Good. She's with them now." David appears .. and he has a gun too. Kira's pistol is out of bullets. She clambers to re-load it with the bullets she found.

p. 95 Tommy appears behind David, in the stairwell, something in his hand. David turns, cries out, collapsing into Tommy, and they tumble down stairs, struggling. Tommy manages to plunge a knife into David and pry himself loose. He retrieves the key from David's pocket.

p. 96 -98 Will gets to Eden, on dining room floor. Before her last wet breaths, she tells him she misses him, meaning Ty. How she just thought… She asks Will to take her outside. Kira goes, helps Will carry Eden out back, where they lay her down. Where she finally dies. Tommy stumbles out, stands beside Kira. When Tommy says he needs to go back in to get Miguel, Will and Kira say they'll meet him out on the street. It's then Will notices that red lantern he saw David light earlier — — it's still shining bright. Soon he/we see, near other houses lit up on the hillside, at least a dozen more red lanterns!

p.98 Sounds filter up toward them — — sirens, lights of police cars, ambulances, helicopters. Will and Kira stare out at all those red lanterns…

To download a PDF of the breakdown for The Invitation, go here.

For those folks who volunteer to write a scene-by-scene breakdown, beyond your name being noted here, my thanks, and your own personal dose of creative juju, you will learn something about story structure and further develop this important skill set.

Here is our current list of literary heroes and heroines!

A Monster Calls / Andrew Turner

Anthropoid / Marija Nielsen

Arrival / Ashish Chand

Captain Fantastic / Despina Karintis

Denial / Gina Gomez

Eye in the Skye / Bruce Gordon

Fences / Matt Cowley

The Founder / Eric Rodriguez

Hail, Caesar! / Brianne VanTuyle

Hell or High Water / Andrew Lightfoot

The Invitation / Joni Trumpold Brainerd

Jackie / Karen Dantas

Kubo and the Two Strings / Nikki Syreeta

La La Land / Priya Gopal

Loving / Liz Correal

Maggie's Plan / Monique Mata

Manchester by the Sea / Ashley Lara

Miles Ahead / Alecia Hodges

Moonlight / Ryan Canty

My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 / Nikki Leydecker

The Secret Life of Pets / Paul Huffman

Victor Frankenstein / Lisa Gomez

Zootopia / Will King

Italics = Turned in scene-by-scene breakdown

Bold = Have used scene-by-scene breakdown in week-long analysis

Now is YOUR chance to contribute to this most worthy cause and provide an additional resource for the online screenwriting community.

Thanks, all!

Even if you do not participate in the analysis, discussion, or write up a scene-by-scene breakdown, I strongly encourage you to read these scripts.

So seize this opportunity and join in the conversation!

I hope to see you in the RESPONSE section about this week's script: The Invitation.

Script Analysis: "The Invitation" — Part 1: Scene By Scene Breakdown was originally published in Go Into The Story on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Go Into The Story – Medium

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