Monday, December 9, 2013

The Invoking (a.k.a. Sader Ridge) ~ Indie Horror Done Right

In horror, there must be a gazillion movies about a group of people heading to a cabin in the woods only to find themselves hunted down by a mass murderer/supernatural being/evil presence.  So what makes a film different enough to make an impression on a seasoned horror fan?

One word: Atmosphere.

For whatever reason,  a film that started out as Sader Ridge ended up with the much more horror-centric, cinema-friendly "The Invoking".  I for one, prefer a title that isn't so obvious, and therefore found the Sader Ridge title more to my liking.  That said, whatever the title may be, it is a film that should be sought out and watched - and one that I was pleased to have the opportunity to see while it is still on the festival circuit.

Written and produced by John Portanova and directed by Jeremy Berg, The Invoking  is an independent film that was made for peanuts but certainly doesn't appear any less impressive. Shot in a matter of days, it is the tale of Sam (Trin Miller), who has inherited a house in the country from an aunt she knows nothing about. She's brought along three friends, Caitlin (Andi Norris), Roman (Josh Truax), and Mark (Brandon Anthony), to explore the property and have a little vacay.  The trio is a relatively typical (or should I say typecast?) group, with Caitlin being the eccentric, fun friend, Roman reeking of jealousy because Caitlin is flirting like crazy with Sam's ex, Mark - who by all accounts is pretty much the asshole of the gang.  Sam herself is quickly established as your average, pretty girl-next-door type who is by far the most down to earth of her friends.

Adopted at age five, Sam has no recollection of her heritage, so when they roll up to the gate to the property nothing seems familiar. Even after meeting the caretaker to the property, Eric (D'Angelo Midili), who claims to have been a playmate of hers when they were little, Sam still can't recall anything.

A few words about Eric. At once peculiar, his quiet demeanor and reclusive nature is unnerving, only adding to the dread that seems to creep up on you throughout this quiet film. He seems to know more than he is telling, and even with prodding by Sam, he is still reluctant to say much.  He makes himself available to the group even when it's more than clear that the two other men aren't too thrilled with him being around.

Almost immediately after arriving, Sam begins to have some distracting and downright disturbing feelings being in the house.  She hears Caitlin saying prayers out loud at night, and witnesses on several occasions arguments and interactions between her friends that don't actually happen. Is she realizing repressed memories? Or is something in the house trying to tell her something?

While checking out the grounds, the four visitors run into the property line adjacent to what is called Sader Ridge and though Mark and Sam aren't too enthused, Caitlin and Roman talk them into crawling over the barb wire fence and checking things out.  As darkness falls, the group somehow gets separated and Mark ends up lost in the woods and Sam's visions take on a life of their own.

With a bare-bones film like this, the less said the better.  What makes The Invoking uniquely different from all the other "cabin in the woods" movies is the fact that we are only given tiny tidbits of information at a time to try to piece together the story.  We want so badly (perhaps because we are so used to this gimmick in most horror films) to have things explained to us that we almost feel frustrated when nothing here is black and white. There is no demon to contend with, no menacing killer outside the door- just a woman struggling to put together the story of her youth and find out what happened to her biological parents, as well as the reason she was given up for adoption at age five.  What she discovers is handed to us soooo slowly that fans of action-horror and gore will likely be disappointed here.  But for those of us who enjoy a slow burn, this is just the type of film that will get inside your head and plant itself there with no intention of leaving.

The cast, in particular Midili, is really effective here. They bicker amongst themselves and appear, for all intents and purposes, like a bunch of old friends who are so close they have basically all slept with each other and formed lasting friendships that are certainly peppered with relationship issues and raw feelings. Midili's Eric is downright creepy at times, but we're never really sure of his intentions until the climax sneaks up on us.

There are eventually some moments of sheer terror that are shocking and unexpected yet deserved. In a film like this there feels like there has to be a reward for waiting for something to happen, and we are compensated nicely here. When a plot isn't completely obvious and holds back on gruesome effects (there is very little gore), it really is so much more focused and effective.

But although the ending doesn't completely tie things up in a nice neat bow, it feels right.  A short running length helps things move along, but again I have to mention we are trucking along at a turtle's pace.
But the ominous sense of dread that wraps itself around the entire film more than makes up for any lack of action and gore.  In my book, atmosphere far outweighs blood and guts, and we've got the former in droves.

Keep your eye on this production company, The October People. I have a feeling we'll be seeing more quality work from them in the future. At least I certainly hope so!


jervaise brooke hamster said...

Merry Christmas Christine, have a great time little darlin`.

Christine Hadden said...

Thanks JBH! You do the same. Cheers!

Doug Brunell said...

Okay, this looks like one I will have to check out.

Christine Hadden said...

Yeah Doug, You should check it out. I think you'd like it! It made my list of favorites for this year! (which you should also check out!)

Stephanie said...

There were a lot of bad reviews on this movie with people mentioning stuff like slow plot, bad acting and ect. Honestly I'm glad I watched it and I loved the ending. Definitely a movie that I will watch again and again.