Unfortunately, despite its just-at-feature-length 80 minutes, this was a real chore to sit through. Yet it's also one of those cases where--especially after watching the making-of documentary--I feel bad posting a negative review (but not bad enough, obviously). Making a movie is no easy task, which is contrary to the way big-budget films have conditioned the perception and expectations of audiences, and the zero-budget film The Invoking (AKA Sader Ridge) is no exception. In fact, it seems that the most notable thing about this film are its behind-the-scenes limitations and consequential efforts. This type of production is valuable in some cases, as we shall see--but in the case of an average viewer and horror fan like me, it just didn't work.
I said that making a movie is a difficult task, and I believe that making a good horror movie is an even more difficult task. Moviegoers in general expect a lot from their experience, and horror movie fans have become extremely desensitised through the decades and decades of devout viewership. Unless you're a child or rather easily unnerved (in which case you probably don't watch a lot of horror movies), it's tough to get wrapped up in the fearful atmosphere of a horror movie. And when it's an independently produced flick, there's typically the added obstacles of amateur acting, continuity errors, cheap filming (although this is becoming more and more popular than off-putting, what with all the post-Blair Witch found-footage films), and other blemishes that come with the territory. For the average viewer, these limitations have to be overcome in order to get into the cadence and tone of the story itself. The Invoking, unfortunately, doesn't bring anything new to the table for the general audience to enjoy. It offers a plot and a (rather elaborate) psychological riff thereon that we've come to know all too well.
The script isn't too bad; in fact, it's a pretty natural script. But the execution of the dialogue and interactions amongst the group of friends is too forced and thus unnatural. I noticed a lot of humour written into the lines, but almost every on-screen attempt fell flat and left me feeling a bit embarrassed for the actors and actresses. The only times in which I actually did laugh or find something funny were mostly in cases where I believe the humour was unintentional. For example, when the character Roman stumbles outside the house upon their arrival--this was so natural as to imply accidental, which says a lot about the rest of the character-level experience. The only bright light came from the star, Trin Miller, who plays Sam. I think this is someone to keep an eye on.
A lot of "reviewers" seem to be complaining about the nonexistent or confusing plot, but I honestly don't understand these complaints. This has a pretty straightforward plot, although it does try to get a little too complex with the way in which Sam's past starts to bleed through (using her current friends in the present to take on the properties of people in her past). Around the 45-minute mark, the movie does begin to feel really slow and ambling, and I felt my lids getting heavy a few times, so it could be that it isn't keeping the attention of a lot of viewers and they're chalking it up to bad plotting. Indeed, this is your basic psychological horror plot where something bad happened in a character's past and is surfacing in abnormal ways. The only plot problem is that there are no fresh ideas or fresh presentations of old ideas.
So what is this movie good for? I believe The Invoking is best suited as a case study for film students. The filmmakers apparently went to work with almost no budget, used a producer's house and property for filming, and set a goal of 7 days. Yes, 7 days to film the whole movie. And, for better or for worse, they pulled it off. They indeed have a movie and people can watch it on Netflix. Jeremy Berg speaks about how they spent many nights sitting in the house from the movie, staring off into the stark blackness and thinking about how cool it would be to film a horror movie there. For an aspiring film student with the same aspirations, this could be a rather inspiring film. Some of the actors speak about some of the challenges that they had to fight through, which gives a sense of all the logistics and contingencies one has to keep in mind while making a film. For someone like me, however, this movie just isn't entertaining or stimulating enough for me to enjoy it without knowing of all the effort and heart that went into making it.