One of the best things about being a film critic devoted primarily to independent film is the opportunity to discover new, up-and-coming filmmakers, actors and other industry folks. The Invoking, formerly known as Sader Ridge, is just such a film. Co-writer John Portanova caught my review of Scott Schirmer's Found, which has been a frequent festival companion for this film, and offered me a chance to check out The Invoking.
The Invoking is practically the definition of a "good" indie horror, the kind of little gem that you hope and pray you'll find when venturing in to an indie or underground or horror film festival. While The Invoking starts with a fairly familiar formula, director and co-writer Jeremy Berg takes it a fresh direction and has the patience of an experienced director in allowing the story and the performances to simmer before really allowing the film to take off. The story centers around Samantha (Trin Miller), a young woman who has long tried to put together the memories of her past with no avail. When she inherits a house in the country, she and friends Caitlin (Andi Norris), Mark (Brandon Anthony) and Roman (Josh Truax) head off to the country to check out the place. They're greeted by Eric (D'Angelo Midlili), an instantly creepy yet not particularly menacing young man who has served as caretaker for the place and who seems to remember an awful lot.
If The Invoking sounds a wee bit familiar, it definitely is a wee bit familiar. While Berg doesn't particularly take the film in any new and extraordinary places he also avoids taking it down all the familiar roads. There's nothing in The Invoking that will completely blow you away, but it will definitely hold your attention throughout its 82-minute running time.
A good amount of credit for its effectiveness must be given to its effective cast. Trin Miller's quiet and steady performance won't necessarily pull you in with its emotional resonance, but it's also refreshingly devoid of the usual histrionic hype of a psychologically troubled character. Miller's Samantha is not piecing together happy memories, and Miller keeps her constantly moving in a safe, self-protective manner that makes it far more believable if perhaps a tad less emotionally effective.
The film's stand-out performance comes courtesy of Andi Norris, whose turn as Caitlin is everything you want a best friend to be. What could have easily been nothing more than a one-note performance is significantly more substantial with Norris offering up a performance that is both emotionally resonant and thrilling. This is not to say that the remainder of the performances are weak and, in fact, D'Angelo Midlili gives one of the more disciplined "creepy" guy performances I've seen this year. Midlili's turn as Eric may seem obvious, but Midlili never allows it to be obvious. Brandon Anthony and Josh Truax round out the key players in fine supporting fashion by adding just the perfect amount of shading and complexity for their characters.
The Invoking is fairly formulaic, but it's far from paint-by-numbers. Berg and his crew work from a common framework, but they do a nice job of fleshing out the framework in mostly effective ways. This is not a flawless film. Its indie foundation will occasionally be obvious in the form of minor sound mix issues and occasional scenes that aren't quite as well lit as most American moviegoing audiences have come to expect. Yet, it's an incredibly well done low-budget indie that deserves the kudos it's receiving on the indie fest scene. The film picked up the Audience Award at the Seattle True Independent Film Festival, called a Stiffy!, and was nominated for Best Narrative Feature. I wouldn't be surprised to see other awards come its way.
If you get a chance to check out The Invoking, you can expect a disciplined and quieter indie horror that finds its thrills in the true horror of everyday life and how incredibly difficult it can be to piece together all the parts of our life when there are some memories that we've intentionally put away.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic