Studio: WowNow Entertainment
Director: Malachi Cull, Zach Lorkiewicz, Emma Bell, Domonic Smith
Writer: Malachi Cull, Joshua Campbell, Zach Lorkiewicz, Helen Shang, Cecilia Gardner
Producer: Evan Tramel, Jason Chartier
Stars: Sarah Lynn Robinson, Joette Waters, Bel Delia, Camron Robertson, Gavyn Alsteen, Amber Lynn Johnson, James Hall, Stephanie Ceballos
Four short stories tell tales of haunting phantoms, a demonic doppelganger, a Lovecraftian curse, and the end of the world.
It’s not uncommon for a distributor to pick up a low-budget indie and then rebrand it to tie the film to a previous success, even if they’re not directly related. Home invasion thriller “Berkshire County” (review here) was given new art and became “Tormented” in the United States so it could look like “Torment” (review here), a similarly-themed movie from the previous year. Ditto “Mother Krampus 2: Slay Ride,” which was a Christmas slasher called “Naughty List” before someone saw the female killer and a light bulb turned on.
This appears to be the mindset that turned a collection of disparate horror shorts into “The Invoking 2” (review here) in 2015. Faced with a question of how to market the movie, somebody said, “well, ‘The Invoking’ did well for us last year, so why don’t we just call this part two?” Never mind that the first film was a standalone feature and the anthology “sequel” had nothing to do with it. The idea is that it’s better to be associated with a previously established property than to promote a movie independently. It’s much easier to tell a retailer, “remember that DVD that sold well last quarter? Here’s another one,” and cash in on a purchase order for a similar amount.
Producers probably didn’t plan on getting to a fifth film in this very loose franchise. As a result, we now have a parent title that does nothing to identify “The Invoking” movies as anthologies of short films unrelated to each other, much less previous installments. “The Invoking 5: Phantoms” follows this formula by stitching together four horror shorts with nothing in common besides being owned by the same stakeholders.
“The Invoking: Phantoms” opens with “Another Set of Eyes,” a 10-minute tale about a blind woman who receives an unexpected knock at her door. The camera never leaves the woman’s dining room, creating a frightful feel of unease when we’re as in the dark as she is about the unseen visitor’s identity. Muffled voices and strange shapes outside her window create a quietly creepy mood.
Unfortunately, the sound design is distractingly atrocious, garbling audio with static that sounds like stereo speakers turned up to top volume without playing anything. I also couldn’t tell you what the exact story even is. Phantoms frighten a blind woman in her home, I guess? “Another Set of Eyes’” noncommittal narrative causes eeriness to evaporate without striking a substantial chord.
The film follows up with “Scratch,” the story of an emotionally disturbed “Leave It to Beaver”-like housewife in 1954. Strange sounds behind her bedroom wall and suspicions about her husband’s infidelity cause the woman’s mind to crack until a demonic doppelganger shows her an all-new horror.
“Scratch” scratches, no pun intended, at several interesting ideas and a throwback aesthetic, although its 13-minute duration keeps it too slight to make a big dent. Both villains come out on top in this scenario too, leaving an ambiguous moral as muddled as the previous segment’s message.
“The Hag Stone” doesn’t need all 31 of its minutes, though its half-hour length makes it the centerpiece segment. The story chronicles a couple who finds a fabled rock said to possess the power to see other worlds. Bringing the stone into their lives unleashes haunting visions poised to drive them both mad.
“The Hag Stone” is rough around the edges, particularly where its FX and inexperienced actors are concerned. But the short does take its visibly limited budget as far as it can go to evoke enough of the Lovecraftian vibe it aims for.
The final segment is curious for reasons unaffiliated with its content. Untitled, yet credited to director Domonic Smith, IMDb identifies the piece as 2013 short “Another Day,” which lists Giancarlo Hernandez and Matt Jimenez as co-helmers. I can’t fathom what happened here that the segment no longer has a name and identifies a different person as its creator, but find it odd enough to be worth a mention.
Regardless, the distantly comedic 20-minute short follows a nebbish office worker so caught up in his mundane routine, he doesn’t notice the impending apocalypse. Intentionally as well as unintentionally, tone fluctuates throughout. Yet when the segment stays steady, it manages to touch on the themes it means to right up until its violent sting of an ending.
As a patchwork anthology, “The Invoking: Phantoms” is decidedly average. But examine each piece individually and sincere effort is easier to appreciate. Each plot’s purpose might not be immediately evident, but the filmmakers clearly have goals in mind, even if restricted resources leave their shorts in a low-budget lurch. In other words, “The Invoking: Phantoms” might have been slapped together quickly, but none of its pieces were.
Looking back at my review of “The Invoking 3: Poltergeist Dimensions” (review here), I mused that I couldn’t remember anything about “The Invoking 2” after a few months, and suspected the same would be true of “The Invoking 3.” I was right. I’ll reiterate that sentiment by making an identical prediction for “The Invoking 5.” I genuinely believe the budding creators involved did the best work they could under given conditions. But there’s no reason to believe this movie won’t evaporate from my memory as soon as it can.
Review Score: 55