The Invoking originally went by the name “Sader Ridge,” which is a way better title in my book. Names of places are more interesting to me than just adding “-ing” to a verb. After watching the movie, the title they rolled with makes sense, but I can’t help but figure they changed it because of The Conjuring‘s success. Anyway, The Invoking turned out to be a solid indie that’s more like a straight up thriller than horror. On the surface the concept anticipates a cabin in the woods kinda slasher, but there are only a few moments of slashing. That’s probably why they didn’t call it “The Slashing.” If you can get past some of the actors (excluding two amazing ones), the film has some moments of bona fide suspense and a nice sense of atmosphere, all while gloriously avoiding cliches!
Sam Harris (Trin Miller) has just inherited a house and a nice piece of land from her recently deceased aunt out in the sticks. She brings along three friends to check it out with her. Well, two friends and one ex-boyfriend who inexplicably gets to hang out with these decent people. I’m talking about Mark (Brandon Anthony), who’s an opportunistic self-centered prick. I don’t understand why Sam or her friends Roman (Josh Truax) and Caitlin (Andi Norris) would EVER hang out with this jerk.
When they arrive at Sader Ridge, they’re greeted by the young groundskeeper Eric (D’Angelo Midili), whose motivations for wanting to help Sam get to know the property are eerily vague. As she spends more time in the house and on the surrounding land, Sam begins to come unhinged. She’s plagued by waking nightmares of brutality and whispers of her forgotten past. Before losing her grip on reality, she’s forced to confront these images to figure out what dark family secrets have been kept from her.
The whole story of Sam’s family is really engaging and even after it’s clear what happened there on the property, The Invoking still does a great job of maintaining suspense until the credits roll. There’s nothing particularly inventive, but the film’s greatest strength is its avoidance of cliches. There are no ghosts or maniacs out in these woods, just some horrible, repressed memories threatening to consume Sam. The whole theme of memory is explored really well, in fact. The approach, in short, is really attractive once you dive into the film.
The biggest drawback of the film is the acting. I know it’s an indie and all that, but most of the dialogue is delivered in such a stiff, machine-like manner that it really drags the film down. None of the exchanges between characters sound natural. There are some exceptions. Trin Miller is fantastic as Sam. She runs the gamut of emotions throughout the film, which would be a challenge for any actor, veteran or not, but she nails it. Keep an eye on her. Then there’s D’Angelo Midili, who plays Eric with an incredible amount of restraint. We’re never quite sure if he has Sam’s best intentions in mind or whether he’s just a complete psycho. Midili keeps us on our toes by presenting layers of menace, sympathy, and kindness, all presented in a believable manner. He never goes over the top. The guy simply plays a great creep.
The Invoking is a great ride with some well-crafted suspense and two kick ass actors that carry the whole damn film. It’s available now on DVD and I think it’s seriously worthy of a rent.