Apart from zombie films, the cabin-in-the-woods slasher is one the more well-known subgenres of horror. While popularized by films like Friday the 13th and The Evil Dead, the genre has lost much of its punch and vigor through an excess of sequels and unoriginal clones. At first glance, The Invoking appears to be such a clone with its rural, isolated setting and cast of young college students. However, those expecting the film to be a straightforward slasher will be surprised to discover that The Invoking is closer a kin to an actual thriller.
Originally titled Sader Ridge, the film follows Sam Harris (played by Trin Miller) who travels out into the country to examine her newly inherited house, courtesy of her deceased biological aunt. As expected, things get progressively worse for Sam and her three friends after they arrive at the seemingly innocuous property. Although this set-up may sound all too familiar, The Invoking luckily manages to avoid the clichés of other cabin-in-the-woods films, including supernatural killers and throw-away characters. Rather than fighting for survival against a homicidal maniac or the recently undead, Sam struggles to maintain her sanity as she endures nightmares and hallucinations related to her forgotten family history. All this is facilitated by a growing tension amongst her male friends as well as the presence of the house’s undertaker, Eric (played by D’Angelo Midili), who may or may not have Sam’s best interests at heart. This drama is well carried by the film’s concentrated cast, who effectively portray a group of old friends whose relationship slowly begins to strain and crumble.
Alongside the believable cast, the film’s greatest strength is its ambiguity. Vagueness can often break a film’s story, ruining the experience by either causing viewers to get hung up on certain details or by becoming too distant for anyone to follow. Luckily, this isn’t really the case with The Invoking, which is consistent with its vagueness and provides just enough tidbits of information to offer some clarity without becoming too blatant. In fact, The Invoking brings to mind Donnie Darko with its obscure yet intriguing direction, minus the time travel and trippy visuals.
Speaking of visuals, The Invoking sports a clean look with lighting that helps to establish its realistic setting. Likewise, the camera work is adequate with thoughtful compositions that help to explore its characters as well as the film’s isolated surroundings. The more memorable shots include the opening close-up of fireside shoveling, and the property gate closing behind Sam and company upon their entry. These shots, among others, do well to foreshadow the impending doom of the film’s climax.
Anyone going into The Invoking with the expectations of seeing a good old splatter flick with outlandish kills will undoubtedly be disappointed. Yet, viewers with open minds will find a subtle thriller that offers a thoughtful, open-ended experience, ripe for interpretation and multiple viewings. It may not necessarily be groundbreaking or the next horror hit, but The Invoking is certainly no throw-away, especially with its indie status.
The Invoking will be available on DVD in the UK in April from Image Entertainment.