One of the incredible downsides to getting your feature known by utilizing the usual sources for independent films (i.e. online film outlets, film festivals, and other internet trappings) is that you’re basically saying that you’re willing to sacrifice a degree of honesty in favor of creating some positive ‘buzz’ around your production. This isn’t always a bad thing – I’ve certainly been offered a handful of DVDs, CDs, and books I’d never purchase on my own that were surprisingly good; still, you’re not doing yourself, your cast, or your crew any favors by asking a billion Facebook followers to ‘Like’ your film. In the end, you may be doing yourself a greater disservice, especially when the finished product could benefit from a healthy dose of constructive criticism … but all you’re concerned with is lining up the finances for your next outing, so you check your integrity at the door and hope you can beg, borrow, and steal a few more words of humble praise.
I don’t know Jeremy Berg or any of the other names and faces associated with THE INVOKING, but I’m surprised at the number of accolades they’ve chalked up from some very credible sources. I suspect some of this might be the end result of one such orchestrated campaign hinted at above … or else I’ve seen a cut of the film much different from the one provided to others.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
Sam (played by the lovely Trin Miller, with an amazingly adept ‘girl next door’ quality) has inherited a house from the family she never knew. Only recently discovering that her parents adopted her, she decides to take a trip to the sleepy little burg named Sader Ridge in order to check out her new home and maybe even uncover a bit about her past. With her three best friends in tow, she arrives only to find the property still occupied by the caretaker – Eric (an impressive D’Angelo Midili). As it turns out, Eric knows more about Sam’s past than he’s willing to let on … and it could very well mean the death of them all!
Unfortunately, there’s very little originality to THE INVOKING. Countless films have explored the ideas and themes of haunting memories wreaking havoc in the present day, so much so that one might question why writer/director Jeremy Berg decided to go down this route with the 80 minute picture. Granted, the script makes some good usage of mostly nondescript actors hitting their marks in a largely choreographed story, but it’s all laced heavily with a been-there-done that quality that tests the average audience’s patience.
At this point, all we’re left with critically are the performances, both by those before and behind the camera; and, again, I found much of THE INVOKING to be inadequate. Berg has a talent for peppering small scenes with recognizable every-day dialogue, but he spaces out the more effective scenes with long shots of background and scenery in some creative attempt to either heighten the suspense (it didn’t for me) or create a mood (again, it didn’t); a sharper edit accompanied by a greater exploration and explanation of what happened in the past might’ve alleviated the dull spots in the narrative. As for the principles, Miller and Midili do some good work with what little they’ve been given – Miller clearly has greater range than what this story allows for her craft to explore, and Midili’s moody hermit gives the script the strongest spine possible here; it’s just sad that they were surrounded by so many vignettes and developments that didn’t quite ‘gel’ the way they could have here.
When all is said and done, there’s a clever little idea of some past trauma very near the heart of THE INVOKING. Some of it may’ve been a misunderstanding, and some of it may’ve been written off as the stuff of local legend. Investigating that with greater conviction probably could’ve giving the film stronger legs to stand on – who of us isn’t fascinated by local color? – but I found too much of this INVOKING better off as ‘revoked.’
THE INVOKING (aka SADER RIDGE)  is produced by The October People. DVD distribution is being handled by RLJ Entertainment. As for the technical specifications … meh. There’s a surprising amount of bloat to this low budget production, with languid shots of atmosphere all-too-often serving as the ‘go-to’ trick to elevate the atmosphere; much of it is shot well (except anything shot at night), but the sound mix could’ve used a better once-over. If special features are your thing, then you’re in for a nice surprise: there’s not one but two commentary tracks as well as a one-hour-plus documentary on the ‘making of’ for you. Nice extras for such a small and probably forgettable flick.
(MILDLY) RECOMMENDED but only for die-hard horror fans as I suspect the rest of us won’t find much if anything to enjoy in THE INVOKING. In fact, the film could serve as a solid textbook example for how a group of independent filmmakers might want to go about creating an indie feature – granted, there’s an awful lot in here that’s entirely predictable, relatively implausible, and downright laughable (hello? Never shoot an indie flick at night!), but I’m comfy giving all involved an A for effort to an otherwise C- production. Trust me when I confess: this isn’t the worst low budget attempt I’ve seen, nor does it even come close.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at RLJ Entertainment provided me with an advance DVD copy of THE INVOKING by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.
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About the reviewer
What? You don't know enough about me from the picture? Get a clue! I'm a graduate from the School of Hard Knocks! You can find me around the web as "Trekscribbler" or "Manchops". … more