Hunting Grounds (2015) Review

rsz_hg1HUNTING GROUNDS (2015) aka Valley of the Sasquatch

Starring Bill Oberst jr, Miles Joris-Peyrafitte, Jason Vail and David Saucedo

Written & Directed by John Portanova

A father, his son, and his two old friends arrive at an isolated cabin for a weekend of hunting. A trip deep into the forest looking for wild game uncovers a tribe of Sasquatch who are determined to protect their land“.

Bigfoot movies have been making a quiet resurgence recently, with Willow Creek, Exists and countless other DTV titles appearing in the past few years. While Willow Creek did very little for me, spending the whole runtime building great tension but point blank refusing to pay it off, I did have a lot of fun with Exists, which went the more kitchen sink fun route. It still had its flaws, but I enjoyed it.

New to the table is Hunting Grounds, aka Valley of the Sasquatch. And while it’s not perfect by a long shot, it gets enough right to be worth a recommendation.

rsz_hg2The story focuses on the troubled relationship between Roger (Vail) and his son Michael (Joris-Peyrafitte). After the recent death of Michaels mother, their very contrasting personalities are brought to the forefront and causing a strain. Michael wants to go to college and make something of his life, while Roger insists they simply can’t afford it. They drive out into the woods to spend some quality time together, with Uncle Will (D’Angelo Midili) and and asshole hanger on Sergio (Saucedo). But as they venture deeper into the forest, they find out they are on the menu of a clan of savage Sasquatch, and must work together to survive.

I want to focus on how enjoyable Hunting Grounds was so I’ll briefly mention its problems first. The main one for me was the character of Sergio. It’s not the fault of the actor, but the script inserts him to be a huge prick from the get-go, and he kind of drags the other characters with him simply because they don’t chin him straight away! Some of the pacing is a little sluggish, and the score has a real Lifetime Channel feel most of the way. Also, many of the night time scenes are too dark, making some of the action incomprehensible. And finally, lets face it, this one does nothing new. The story beats, the characters, many of the situations, we’ve seen before elsewhere…

rsz_hg3HOWEVER, there is something to be said about doing something we’ve seen before but well, and that’s what happens in Hunting Grounds. The performances are very capable, and the father son dynamic is well thought out, and contrasts nicely when the family of Bigfoot’s lay siege. Which brings me to another aspect, the FAMILY of beasts. It’s hard enough to survive against one in many films, so adding more really heightens the stakes. The man-in-suit FX can be hit and miss, but that adds a level of B Movie charm to it all.

After a slow start, director Portanova really lays his cards on the table, with showdown after showdown in an entertaining man vs nature story that is much more than a SyFy Channel special. Stick with it, and you’ll find an engaging, if derivative creature feature.

7/10

New Teaser Poster for upcoming horror feature Ayla

New Teaser Poster for upcoming horror feature Ayla

Ayla_teaser_posterElias (“Gut”) will be directing from his original script and The October People’s Matt Medisch, Jeremy Berg, and John Portanova (“The Invoking”, “The Device”, “Valley of the Sasquatch”) are producing.

Starring in the film will be Tristan Risk (“American Mary”, “The Editor”) and Nicholas Wilder (“Gut”) with more cast announcements planned soon.

The story of “Ayla” centers on Elton (Nicholas Wilder), a man haunted by the mysterious death of his 4-year-old sister, who brings her back to life thirty years later as an adult woman, with dire consequences.

Production is planned for the fall in Seattle and the surrounding areas.

A Kickstarter bid is planned for June 9th in partnership with Back to the Movies <http://bttm.co.uk/> and the campaign perks will be tailor-made for horror and film fans, with multiple choices being offered within a single reward level and something for every backer to take home.

Stay tuned to the official “Ayla” website www.aylamovie.com and Facebook page www.facebook.com/aylamovie for
updates and look for the project on Kickstarter this June.

The Device (2014) Review

deviceposterThe Device (2014)

Director: Jeremy Berg

Writers: Jeremy Berg & John Portanova

Starring: Angela DiMarco, David S. Hogan, Kate Alden, Gabriel Congdon

“I’m not scared of a whatever it is.”

Two sisters, Abby (DiMarco) and Rebecca (Alden) reunite after years apart to scatter their mother’s ashes at the family cabin. While there Rebecca and Abby come upon a “crash site”. Abby’s fiancée Calvin (Hogan) winds up toting home a mysterious sphere that seems to be of otherworldly origin. He comes under the sphere’s sway while his wife struggles with nightmares and Rebecca confronts her past.

The Device is a little bit of Dark Skies, sprinkled with Close Encounters of the Third Kind and mixed with every other UFO horror/scifi film. But mostly it takes after Dark Skies, with its brooding suburban setting, nose bleeds, and spooky dreams. The film get’s off to a good start with a great premise. Finding a mysterious device in the woods that changes people’s behavior should sound familiar. Tommyknockers anyone? Unfortunately there ends the comparison (to either the book or mini-series). What was hoped for, and vaguely promised by the film poster was a movie of Lovecraftian bodily horror as the device infects and warps the three main characters. At the very least I kept waiting for the sphere to sprout mechanical tentacles and go on a rampage.

device1Instead, not so much. The Device leaves the isolated woods for the Seattle suburbs, wanders around a little in domestic drama and family secrets, deviates for a small research trip to a doctor (normally my favorite scene in these kinds of movies, but underwhelming here) and then goes back to the cabin for a rendezvous with destiny. The early promise of the film and it’s good production value are frittered away once the film hits act two and chugs along to an inevitable conclusion seen many times before.

The Device looks great, moody and desaturated, the gloom seems to permeate everything lending menace to the suburban home where most of the movie takes place. The woods look amazing, and there are some glorious shots of trees. The soundtrack is off and on effective. Comprised mostly of alternating low and shrill notes, it borders on atonal at times and its effectively creepy most of the time. Other times it becomes an ear piercing irritation. The acting is all right but not great. The performances feel underplayed and Calvin is particularly monotonous, sounding basically the same no matter what he’s saying or what the situation calls for.

device2Oh! And there’s an alien! Which looks like most other aliens. Tall and skeletal with bug eyes and no clothes on. Why don’t advanced star-spanning civilizations ever go in for pants? The alien comes in early, appearing in Abby’s nightmares so there isn’t much of a surprise when you see more of the alien at the end. Bonus points; the writer/producer is John Portanova from Valley of the Sasquatch, who certainly loves his woodland settings and dysfunctional families. Berg and Portanova are both very talented, but despite that talent The Device crosses over into skip it or watch it for free territory.

Kudos for: Aunt Linda and her burning condescension.

Lesson Learned: Don’t take home strange spheres.

4/10

Valley of The Sasquatch (2015) Review

votsValley of the Sasquatch (2015)

Director: John Portanova

Starring: Bill Oberst Jr., Jason Vail, Miles Joris-Peyrafitte, David Saucedo, D’Angelo Midili

“So Sergio freaked out and shot a bush? Who hasn’t?”

Dysfunctional father and son duo Roger and Michael Crew (Jason Vail and Miles Joris-Peyrafitte) are forced to move to a not-quite-fit for human habitation cabin in the middle of the woods. Dad Roger immediately invites his drinking buddy Sergio (David Saucedo) and brother-in-law Will (D’Angelo Midili) up for the weekend. Primarily as an excuse to drink and do drugs with Sergio and go shoot woodland animals. What they didn’t expect was a family of Sasquatch trying to defend their territory against loggers? Presumably. It’s not terribly well explained but doesn’t really matter.

And who really expects Sasquatches anyway? The hapless group find their numbers whittled down and at last make a stand back at the cabin with fellow hapless Squatch survivor Bauman (Bill Oberst Jr.). Though they face more danger from their fellow man than a gang of kidnapping Sasquatch.

vots1Valley (it’s actually a mountain) of the Sasquatch is pretty good. Though the majority of the film is spent on the saga of Roger and Michael as they bicker and Roger lets his horrible friend Sergio constantly insult his son Michael. Slowly the circumstances of Rog and Mike’s dire straits are revealed during a hunting trip gone wrong. The Sasquatches of which there are supposedly three–but there is only one Squatch playing all three– arrive an hour into the film. When they do show up it’s, well, spectacular is overstating it, but it’s darn fun. The Squatch himself is a tall actor in a fur suit with an unfortunately immobile mask on. The fact that all the Squatches look alike is confusing, but ultimately doesn’t matter. They attack and our hapless heroes have to make a run for it.

The motivation for the Squatches is chalked up to loggers. Though why they kidnap some people and murder others is never brought up or explained. They also seem to be gentle creatures at heart, despite the violence they display they seem to just be repaying getting shot at a lot.

Across the board he acting is great with only one exception. Vail does a great job of being surly functional alcoholic dad. Joris-Peyrafritte stands out as the vulnerable and put upon son Michael. Saucedo is good at being horrible. Sergio is loathsome to the core, a cowardly bully who talks to Michael in a way no one should even talk to a dog. Midili as uncle Will is good, but some of his lines come out with a weird delivery. Still, uncle Will is one of only two likeable characters in the entire movie. Bill Oberst Jr. has a few good scenes but isn’t in it as much as could be hoped for. He opens the film then comes back toward the end to take part in the climax.

vots2The cinematography warrants special mention. The scenery is beautiful. Full of green trees, meadows of flowers and towering pines. The shots get trickier inside the dismal cabin, for starters it’s ugly. It’s also hard to get an idea of the layout of the cabin and the rooms are tiny, making for one of the worst knife fights in the history of cinema. The director also chose to shoot the scenes at night which made the forest a pressing wall of trees from which anything might emerge at any time. Much preferable to shooting day-for-night. The darkness also hides the Squatch’s face which was a good choice given that the actor couldn’t emote through the rubber mask.

Recommended to Sasquatch aficionados who like a side helping of family drama and anyone who likes pretty scenery.

Kudos for: An arm for an arm.

Lesson learned: Camping sucks.

5/10

Discover ‘The Device’ DVD on March 23rd from Image Entertainment

deviceDiscover ‘The Device’ on March 23rd from Image Entertainment

Deep in the eerie forest lies a mysterious entity waiting to defy nature in a beguiling new psychological sci-fi thriller. Exposing its sinister purpose, the deadly alien invasion on humanity is born in The Device, coming to DVD from Image Entertainment.

Inspired by classic abduction cases writer and producer John Portanova (The Invoking) skillfully plays on the intrigue of the unknown. Starring Angela DiMarco (Trauma), David S. Hogan (Shadowed) and Kate Alden (The Right Place), The Device comes to DVD on 23 March 2015 and features an audio commentary by the screenwriter of Fire in the Sky and Intruders, two of the most popular alien abduction films ever.

When two sisters find a harmless looking object in the woods, they cannot know to what extent it will change their world – and ours – forever. The small, sphere – mysterious, seductive, enticing – conveys a message, a deep, profound biological message, that will reshape our world, recasting relationships with the universe beyond our wildest dreams and worst nightmares.

Compelled by curiosity, they soon discover that there is more than meets the eye to this ethereal object. It holds the key to our destiny. It holds the secret to a new kind of life. It holds the embryo of a plan for alien invasion. It is so much more than just The Device.

The key to our future…or the seed of our extinction? The chilling truth is unearthed in The Device.

THE DEVICE is available to order NOW from Amazon UK – HERE

Special features include: Three audio commentaries!
Title: The Device

ReleaseDate: 23rd March 2015  !

Cat No: IMAGE4017  RRP: £12.99
Running Time: 87 mins approx

Certificate: 15

Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 – Aspect Ratio: 16:9!

Interview with Producer, Director & Writer John Portanova by Stuart Anderson

Interview with producer/director & writer, John Portanova

 

It was a genuine pleasure to receive the amount of positive feedback about last week’s article for the May DVD release of the rather excellent The Invoking. The fact that the positive vibes weren’t just from those involved in the project, but others who had both enjoyed the article and been inspired to possibly go out and buy it when it’s released.

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John Portanova standing in the ‘stalkers’ section
 –  nope nothing to infer from that……

If that wasn’t enough, just a couple of days later I was more than a little pleased to be contacted by writer/producer/director and member of a mysteriously named group known as The October People, John Portanova.

If truth be told I was pleased on two counts. Firstly, it gave me the chance to pass onto my reader just part of the process behind the production of an indie horror movie. Secondly, it was the opportunity for me to gain answers to a few important burning questions that I had, such as; Was the rather excellent The Invoking really made on a shoestring budget? Just how annoyingly talented is Mr Portanova and his team? And are The October People really some shady group whose true intention to suck out the brains from our still breathing bodies?

 

As you’ll see below, John is a rather deft and excellent interviewee with a good line in intelligence, humour and detailed oration, besides, anybody who uses the word ‘cryptozoology’ in an interview is fine by me. Not only that, but it seems that he has the need also to get the odd rant off his chest – nothing wrong with that. So I hope that he doesn’t mind the odd minor amendment that I’ve made to his responses to my once again legendary, almost interrogatory in nature, interview questions by my altering his American English spelling (i.e incorrect) to UK English (i.e correct).
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Q) Let’s start with me asking you just who and what are The October people?

The October People is a production company started by myself, Jeremy Berg, and Matt Medisch. It is based in Seattle and San Diego and specialises in producing independent films with a strong focus on character. Our first film was The Invoking, which Jeremy directed and co-wrote, I co-wrote and produced, and Matt produced and helped come up with the original story for. On future projects we will have similar positions some of the time, but other times we will switch things up and I could be directing, for example. We want to tell quality, character-driven stories through the prism of our favourite genres.

 
Q) The Invoking seems a little old-fashioned in terms of character development (and I mean that as a compliment) Was this an intentional approach from the start?

 

It was. We are all lifelong horror fans and of course a big part of that is loving the gore effects and monsters. But when you see as many horror films as we have, you start to see those same things over and over. We knew we didn’t want our first film to be another micro-budget zombie or slasher movie, so we decided to tell a story that was more about the characters and that took a more psychological approach. But even our upcoming projects, which do focus on different sub-genres of horror including monsters, will still be very much built off of a solid character foundation. Instead of just giving the audience cookie-cutter types that they’ve seen over and over again, we want to make sure there is interesting drama going on so that they are invested  in the story even before a monster comes rampaging across the screen.

 

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Q) The film looks amazing – where is the location and how did you find it?

 

Thanks. We shot the film in Red Bluff, CA. It was actually the home where our producer Matt grew up. Coming into The Invoking, we had a handful of short films and no money. We knew we wanted to make a feature and so we decided to do something in the vein of El Mariachi or the original Paranormal Activity, where the directors used what they had access to (locations and props) and wrote the film around those things to keep the budget low. So we wrote the script based off of this property we had the full run of. If something wasn’t there and available to us at the location, we didn’t write about it.

 

Q) Did The invoking only cost $11000 and one week to make? If so, just how was that managed ?

 

Yes. The budget for the film was $11,000 and principal photography happened in Red Bluff over the course of one week. Like I was mentioning earlier, the script was written with this budget and shoot schedule in mind. We only had so much money we could charge onto credit cards and so much time we could take over the location. So keeping to this schedule was easy in one sense because we were staying at our location and everything was shot within walking distance from the house. But, on the other hand, it was hard because we had so many shots to get. Some days we did up to 40 set ups and had a maximum of 3 takes for each shot. Having an awesome crew and a great cast of actors really helped us stay on schedule and get good stuff during the few takes we had.

jp4Q) What productions are next in the pipeline?

We are actually getting ready to shoot the next October People horror feature next week. It’s an alien abduction horror tale entitled The Device. Once again it’ll be directed by Jeremy Berg from a script the two of us wrote and Matt Medisch will be producing. It’ll be another very low budget picture, but this time we will be shooting all around Washington State with an awesome cast and crew made up of local talent including a nice mix of old friends and new collaborators. The film centres on a fractured family coming together after the loss of a loved one and then spirals into a story of alien terror. We’re all big fans of alien abduction mythology and films in the sub genre such as Fire in the Sky, so we’re excited to film our version of an alien abduction story.

The plan is for the film to be out before the end of the year on home video after playing at a couple of film festivals.Two months after we wrap The Device, we are going to be moving onto Valley of the Sasquatch. This film is based on a script I wrote many years ago and will be my directorial debut. Jeremy will be the cinematographer (a job he has performed on all of our films) and Matt will be producing. I grew up loving Bigfoot as much as alien abduction mythology (I was a big Unsolved Mysteries fan) and so I want this to be a film that treats the creature seriously. It’s not a slasher movie where Jason is replaced by a Bigfoot. The story treats them like wild animals and gives a reason for why they have begun to amass a body count. I think cryptozoology fans as well as horror fans will dig it. It takes a serious look at a monster that has been on film a lot, but not always in the best stories. We will be shooting on our biggest budget yet (although still conservative even by indie film standards) and with some awesome actors that fans of the genre will recognise. The plan is for the film to be completed by the end of the year and then go into a film festival run.

 

We are very happy with the response the film has got. For a film made for no money in no time, we’ve gotten many outstanding reviews and won a handful of awards from our film festival run. We even got a distribution deal that put the film out on store shelves and all over the net in a much wider fashion than a film of our size is usually afforded. So we don’t have much to complain about. But there are a few misconceptions about the film that people have had since our wide release that I want to clear up.
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Most of the crew of The Invoking
1. We know that the set-up of the film (young people go to a cabin) has been done before. We had a microscopic budget that dictated how many characters and locations we could use. So we went with a classic horror set-up and then moved from there into our brand of psychological horror.

 

2. We intended this to be a slow paced, character-driven film. We keep a lot of potential story tangents in the air (Is the house haunted? Will one of the characters snap and turn the film into a slasher? Is everything in the lead character’s head?) and slowly reveal the true nature of the plot in order to keep those questions going through the audience’s head. If that doesn’t sound like your bag (which is fine, different strokes for different folks after all) you might be better off watching something else.

 

3. We shot the film in January of 2012 under the title Sader Ridge. We had no idea what The Conjuring was at that time as it would not be released for a year and a half. The distributor chose to change the name of the film to The Invoking and designed the key art which sells the movie as a classic ghost story (which it really isn’t).

 

4. The film was shot a year before Texas Chainsaw 3D was released and before we had ever heard of it. The similarity in the plot set-up is a coincidence.

All right, that’s all my ranting. (laughs).

 

Q) Finally, Alien or Predator? (This is important!)

Alien. I think Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett came up with the perfect horror creature with that film. The life cycle is great and keeps the terror constantly evolving. And the fact that the alien has acid for blood was a stroke of genius because the characters had to outsmart it as opposed to outgun it, which is usually the path the ending of a monster movie goes down.

 

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Q) Finally finally, any chance of me getting hold of one of them there The Invoking signed T-Shirts?

 

The shirts were made by a great company who I buy most of my wardrobe from called Fast Custom Shirts. You can get one here: http://www.fastcustomshirts.com/servlet/Detail?no=1619.

 

On our Facebook page (facebook.com/theoctoberpeople) we recently ran a contest giving away a signed DVD & a shirt, but unfortunately the contest is already over. But if you buy the shirt and then find yourself in Seattle I’m sure you could find the cast around town and get it signed.

 

Thanks for the great questions Stu!

 

No worries mate, and thanks for the detailed responses and in getting the answer to the Alien/Predator question correct! 🙂

 

I would sincerely like to thank John for taking the time to put up with my vague and shambolic  attempts at cutting edge questioning, hopefully he and the rest of his team haven’t been put off too much in letting me see the fruits of their forthcoming productions. However I cannot guarantee that The October People isn’t in fact a covert organisation whose ultimate aim is to suck your brains out, luckily I’m safe as I’m often told that I don’t have the brains I was born with…….

 

The Invoking (2013) DVD Review

The Invoking – DVD release from Image Entertainment

Release Date: 12 May 2014
Certificate: 15
 
Special Features:
* Commentary with Writer/Director Jeremy Berg, Producer Matt Medisch and Writer/Producer John Portanova.
* Commentary with Actors Trin Miller, D’Angelo Midili and Andy Morris.
* The Making Of The Invoking Documentary
 
RRP: £12.99


invok1I suppose that one of the many reasons why I love the horror movie genre so much is in part due to the plethora of tasty little sub genres within it; Slasher, Religious, Vampire/Zombie/Monster, Gore and Supernatural – to name but just a few. Now while I would normally shy away from categorising and labelling everything and anything within an inch of its life, it’s safe to say that horror for me is a genre that, whatever mood I may find myself in, has always had something that managed to well and truly hit the horror spot in my soul.

Each of these sub genres have their rightful place in my (black) heart and each to a certain extent have been known to divide opinion both within and outside the horror community – for instance, I even know someone who doesn’t like The Texas Chainsaw massacre……yes Mikhail Mulvihill, I’m talking about you so hang your head in perpetual shame :-)..

 

For some reason, the sub genre of the Psychological horror, where the power of suggestion, character building and a gradual acceleration of atmosphere seems to divide said opinion more than most……..and for a few months I’ve been hearing those same whispers and heated disagreements about a certain new addition to the collection, but I’ll talk about some of those conflicting views in a little while.

So it was with gleeful chuckle and skip that I received a preview disc sent to me on behalf of Image Entertainment UK . Not only was the theme heavily psychological, so I was going to have to think just a little bit(that will be a first, I hear you say), but also it was also another thing very close to this blogger’s heart, a low-budget independent production, being shot in just one week for an amazing $11,000 dollars.

The film concerned is called The Invoking and I’m saying to you know, you should see it, you really should. But before I get well and truly carried away……….. a little on the what the film is actually about…..

As usual, I will endeavour to shy away from an in-depth spoiler strewn review as seems the annoying habit of many a blog reviewer – just why anybody would want to regurgitate a scene by scene account of a movie and thus removing any semblance of mystery for the potential viewer is simply beyond me. As for those who think they are being cleverly cryptic by suggesting that the ending is a sting/twist/surprise/open ended/closed/satisfying/ambiguous or serenaded by harp playing angels, you still are giving it away you plonkers. So for those of you in bloggerland and reviewland who feel the need to divulge every nuance of a plot, stop it, stop it now.

invok2‘Nothing wrong with this house, nope, no sir.”

Anyhoo, I once more digress. In a nutshell, the plot is as follows….

Raised by foster parents, Sam claims to remember nothing of her childhood…but it remembers her. When she discovers she has inherited a property, she invites three friends to join her on a trip that will change their lives forever.

A young reclusive caretaker (played by the truly excellent D’Angelo Midili), a childhood friend of Sam’s is there to greet them, but something else is waiting for her in the house, something dark and deadly. The ghosts of a past she has long forgotten are coming back to haunt her with a pounding, slashing, raging terror.

If you want just a taste of that taster then the trailer for the film can be found RIGHTY HERE MATEY

Originally titled Sader Ridge (taken from the name of the location in the movie), The Invoking has already gained a number of film awards including Best Actor, Best Cinematography, and Best Music Score at the 2013 Dark Carnival Film Festival. The film was named the best horror film of 2013 by Horror-Punks.com. The website also named D’Angelo Midili as the best actor of 2013 for his portrayal of the caretaker, Eric. If that wasn’t enough, it also won the Audience Award at the  Seattle True Independent Film Festival last year.

invok3
That awkward moment when you run out of milk…..

Now, so far so good? Well yes……and no. Yes, because of the aforementioned critical accolades, but also no, because from what I’ve seen so far there are some who have rather misread and misjudged this movie on two major counts. Firstly, for some people it seems that this is a plot theme that is all too familiar, namely a group of young college kids taken out of their city comfort zones and who find themselves locating to an isolated, countryside setting only to find out that the locals may not be quite what they seem. And yes, when one first watches The Invoking, I too felt more than a twinge of deja vu at the very beginning as I waited for the family of slashers or Blair Witches to jump out faster than Bruce Campbell himself could hope to cope with. However, I soon realised my mistake, because the filmmakers have added a clever and subtle subtext to plot that many people clearly have missed – but more of that shortly. Instead I’ve noticed a few somewhat lazy comparisons to other movies.

In fact if I see another comment (and there have been one or two) that it has any sort of resemblance or connection to The Conjuring I may well pick up the nearest chainsaw myself. You see, this superficial assumption would be a mistake, because underneath this veneer of cliched familiarity, there is far more intelligence and textured character building on show here than you could shake at Hitchcock thriller at. If there is any resemblance at all between this and any other production I would wager that it is due far more to the films distributors than to the filmmakers themselves.

invok4
The annual Sader Ridge staring contest is in full swing….

This then leads on to what seems to be the second misjudgement that in my opinion, some who have viewed the movie seem to be making, namely the films pacing. Yes, the pace of the film may not quite be at the ‘lets slash em up before the words character and development can even be muttered’, but this doesn’t mean that it is tedious or boring. On the contrary, we are given time to listen in and experience the relationships of the characters as grow (and in some cases, deteriorate) with the story. We may not necessarily like all the characters, but we certainly get to know them and empathise with them when events reach their inevitable climax.

I really don’t want to sound like an elitist horror snob – I love mindless onscreen violence as much as the next person…….but just because we are asked to think and consider the actions and behaviours on screen doesn’t mean that the tension and chills are any less than a good old gore-fest. There is room for both you know.

But the inverted snobbery from some who regard the slow build up as an exercise in tedium have made a misjudgement of the film of major proportions. Yes the build up may be slow, but as a result of the time spent on developing certain characters, by the time events start to become violent when we the audience have become so emotionally invested the eventual impact is tenfold. For example, we even genuinely sympathise with one particular individual who has to commit the ultimate act of violence. This person clearly wrestles with the act but commits to it without hesitation once the decision is made. It looks at face value like a casual act of violence, but that would be a mistake to assume so – it is a scene of beautifully subtle acting and results in genuine horror.

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Hey, I can see my house from here!
In addition we have the rather clever and distinctive subplot that underpins the the whole of the story. For the writer/director (have I told you that I don’t like annoyingly talented people?) Jeremy Berg has developed a story of psychological repression and combined it with a distinct supernatural tone – to great effect. The film’s pacing helps us to witness Sam slowly coming to the realisation that her lack of childhood memories may possibly be the result of her internal unconscious conflicts as she ‘witnesses’ the various elements of her personality and memory manifest themselves in her friends. To the films credit,  we the audience have to decide whether it is the house, the land or something/someone else who is invoking the internal conflicts of her unconscious. Is it really happening at all? Clever, very clever.

 

I mentioned earlier that I understand that the film was filmed within the space of just one week for a measly 11,000 dollars. If that is true (and I have absolutely no reason to doubt otherwise) then that fact is simply incredible.It seems that the annoyingly talented Berg has created a movie that looks as if more, far more money, was spent on it than that. Because at times it looks truly beautiful. It helps that the location is genuinely stunning on occasion, but it still has to be well lit, photographed, filmed and edited to be effective – and the makers of The Invoking do just that in a way that belies the actual amount it cost to produce.  It looks and sounds wonderful.

 

I can’t lie and say that this is a flawless piece of Psychological horror, because it’s not, the acting from some of the cast is less than effective.

 

On the one hand  the two main  players, Miller and Midili more than hold the film together, with D’Angelo Midili’sperformance in particular being something of a revelation and definitely on the ‘destined for grand things’ list.

 

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The excellent D’Angelo Midili.
His role as the mysterious caretaker could easily have been ‘hammed up’ to levels of cliche and caricature, however a performance of measured understatement is instead on show. The problem is that the quality of acting from the rest of the cast at best doesn’t quite measure up to the two leads, at  its worst at times it is downright poor. Far be it from me to single out one particular performance as being bad, but one of the actors obvious attempt at being wacky and quirky is simply too over the top and and at times completely distracted my attention from whichever scene they’re in.

 

The Invoking hasn’t completely reinvented the wheel or transformed the genre, I doubt that was ever the intention of Jeremy Berg and his crew. However, what he and the rest of his team have created is a wonderfully subtle, intelligent, beautiful and at times chilling tale that may indeed seem familiar at first glance. It is though, far more than that and it works wonderfully well. It’s not just a good film, it is simply excellent.

 

The Invoking is due for its UK release on DVD on 12th May 2014.

 

This movie is well worth 8 out of 10

 

Image Entertainment is a relatively new label from RLJ Entertainment which was launched here in the UK in January 2014, as the UK arm of the thriving Image Entertainment US label, with an exciting new range of sci-fi action, thriller and horror genre films selected from the US schedule.