Studio: Image Entertainment
Director: Jeremy Berg
Writer: Jeremy Berg, John Portanova, Matt Medisch
Producer: Matt Medisch, John Portanova, Jeremy Berg
Stars: Trin Miller, Brandon Anthony, Andi Norris, Josh Truax, D’Angelo Midili
Upon inheriting a secluded home from her forgotten birth family, a young woman uncovers a haunting link to her troubled past.
According to a behind-the-scenes documentary and an audio commentary track with its creators, “The Invoking” had a genesis identical to a glut of independent movies with similarly limited scope and production value. With barely a budget to speak of, the filmmakers had access to an isolated family home surrounded by somewhat spooky woods and the resulting light bulb said, how about a horror film? Where they took an atypical path was in the type of horror movie they decided to make. No matter the outcome of their finished effort, it is admirable that they avoided biting the low hanging fruit of woodland teen slasher and opted instead to risk a thoughtful psychological thriller.
Samantha Harris inherits a cabin in the woods from the birth family she barely remembers. Unlike the farmhouse Heather Miller inherited in Texas, Sam’s new home does not include a chainsaw-wielding cousin wearing a mask made from human flesh. But it does come furnished with nightmarish visions of childhood trauma that leak into her waking world as Sam slowly succumbs to haunting madness.
Helping Sam turn property exploration into a vacation is her immediate friend circle of hipster thirtysomethings. Dialogue about school and DOBs on some paperwork date the characters to their early twenties, but hairlines and an American Eagle Outfitters wardrobe suggest something else.
Resembling a slimmer Peter Krause, Mark is a prone to anger ex-boyfriend that Sam begins confusing for an abusive father. Caretaker Eric, looking like Vincent Kartheiser mixed with Cillian Murphy in appearance and in presence, complicates things further by stoking repressed memories of a past shared with Sam when they were both preschool age. Sam’s mind then begins spinning her down a spiral slide of fantasy mixed with reality and memory mixed with hallucination.
“The Invoking” is a mood piece with a strangely hypnotic quality that alternately tires roughly as much as it fascinates. To say that its payoff rewards those with patience invested in the taffy-pulling pace would not be entirely accurate. “The Invoking” possesses a difficult to pinpoint ability for holding attention, but it demands that the audience meet the performances and the screenplay halfway to make up for shortcomings in storytelling.
Fidgety viewers may wave a hand and dismiss “The Invoking” as boring. Yet the film’s doldrums are not so much created by a dearth of action and suspense as they are from the narrative’s intentional snapshot of normalcy depicted with a spike of mental anguish. Sam and her friends never crack the confines of their molds as average personalities, but they also never strain to artificially inflate themselves through flowery dialogue or exaggerated behavior. They are quietly familiar types brought to life by actors in a way that makes them appear authentic.
The flipside to portraying identifiable Average Joes is that incentives to pay attention are not inherent in the movie. “The Invoking” demands discipline from an audience willing to bear with fledgling moviemaking abilities that more than once bump into a wall while stumbling to move forward. It is a slow story with unpolished edges in its delivery, but “The Invoking” is far from being a phoned-in effort from filmmaking newcomers putting their hearts into a film that costs less to make than it does to buy a pre-owned Toyota.
Satisfaction cannot be had by making “The Invoking” a completely passive experience. Unless the audience overlooks the seams and chooses to see intended ideas in instances where actual execution falters, the movie buckles under the weight of inexperience and a structure that is too simple to bear the weight on its own. Ultimately, there is not enough atmosphere to make the movie a true recommendable standout, although it does take genuine commitment and courage to tackle a thriller aiming for more psychological chills than visceral thrills. For that fact alone, the filmmakers deserve special consideration for treating a horror movie audience intelligently.
NOTE: “The Invoking” was previously titled “Sader Ridge.”
Review Score: 60