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Sader Ridge (2013)
Tonight's Feature Presentation


Starring: Trin Miller, Brandon Anthony, Andi Norris, Josh Truax, D'Angelo Midili

Written By: Jeremy Berg (also story), John Portanova, Matt Medisch (story) Directed By: Jeremy Berg

The Short Version

This is the low budget thriller that people always want to make but rarely can.

Familiar elements feel fresh because they’re done well.

An outstanding cast delivers as a group of realistic people... slowly… going…

Hot damn, that is one creepy ending.

If you have the chance to see The Invoking, do it.

The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?


Extra Sharp on a budget.

Pairs Well With...


The NorCal brew I happened to really be drinking while watching Sader Ridge.  Thought provoking, with bite.

“I wish somebody would give me a house.”

I’ll begin by saying this: I’ve been reviewing low budget indie horror flicks for over a decade, and on the thriller end of the scale, The Invoking (originally called Sader Ridge) is one of the best I’ve seen. 

The Invoking is a study in trust and patience, two items that the horror genre in general – and the low budget indie corner of it in particular – tend to not have in abundance.  So often, the temptation to go for the blood, go for the boobs, go for the cheap thrill, and go for the nasty kill is just too great to resist, and so as a rule, most filmmakers don’t.  And if the desired result is a cheesy camp slasher or a creature feature, that’s fine.

But director Jeremy Berg and company aren’t out to make a cheesy camp slasher or a creature feature.  They’re out to make a genuine thriller built around things like atmosphere, suspense, and making the audience members question whether or not they actually saw who or what they think they did in the last frame.  Artistically, this represents a far greater challenge, and one that even the most seasoned of filmmakers with significant studio backing rarely find themselves able to meet head on.  It’s a challenge for which victory can’t be bought, and which can only be won through sheer force of will and outstanding displays of talent on both sides of the camera.

It’s a challenge met and mastered by the cast and crew of The Invoking.

The story of The Invoking begins on familiar ground: our heroine (Trin Miller, All My Presidents) learns that she’s inherited property out in the middle of nowhere courtesy of family she never knew, and hauls some friends along to check the place out.  Needless to say, there’s a creepy onsite caretaker named Eric (D’Angelo Midili, Chop Socky Boom), even creepier woods, and if the place isn’t haunted, then it at least does an outstanding job of slowly driving everyone inside crazy.  It’s a foundation that any seasoned genre fan has seen dozens of times over under dozens of different names.  But while for some jaded types, such familiarity breeds contempt, I choose to look at it as a solid start, because let’s face it: there’s no such thing as a complete original in this genre.  And that’s fine – what matters is what the creative team does with the formula.  In this case, they take the air of familiarity to their advantage, trusting that the audience will understand the rules and let the story tell itself.

It would be so easy to go for some quick blood to prime the pump, or even the cheap scare of a cat jumping through a window a-la Steve Miner, but again, trust wins.  The people behind the camera trust the script to move at its own pace and no faster, and they trust the cast to hold the audience’s interest as things slowly start to simmer.  They also trust the audience to see and hear things that are out of place without there being any obnoxious effort made to announce them.  If you catch everything right away, great; if not, so much the better when you realize later what you missed.  The characters are in no hurry to tell all of their secrets at once, so why should the filmmakers rush them artificially?  If you see the marks of torture, you see them, if not…

Have patience, and let it unfold.  The filmmakers think you’re smart enough to wait; there are rewards for proving them right.

Besides, they do such a wonderful job with the atmospherics; it’d be a shame not to take note of them.  The cinematography is excellent, doing much by itself to ratchet up the creep factor of the location, both inside and out.  (It also looks and feels like actual filmmaking and not the horrid “found footage” nonsense that’s plagued so much of the genre of late.)  The use of detail and insert shots as punctuation marks is particularly effective, adding a bit of a Lynchian quality that only serves to make things all the more spine-tingling.  And both the music and the silences are very well chosen indeed.

And then there’s the director, who seems to take great – though patient – delight in making the audience wonder just how much of what is on the screen is real in story terms, how much is hallucination, and who is really where when and just plain what the hell, man?!  It works because of the slow boil approach, insinuating itself into the viewer’s consciousness by having been going on long before it was made obvious, and it works because the hand guiding the show is steady and resistant to temptation.  In this, Jeremy Berg shows greater directorial wisdom than most people who’ve been getting paid by studios to do the same job for decades.

The slow boil also works because the script trusts the audience to enjoy the fact that instead of populating a familiar story with the usual one-dimensional archetypes, The Invoking instead chooses to have characters who act and sound like – gasp – real people.  Sure, the archetypes are still there – the disagreeable prick, the geeky guy, and the young lady of (real or perceived) wandering affections – but they’re not puppets.  You as a member of the audience undoubtedly know people exactly like this in real life, just as you also probably know someone very similar to Sam, one of the most grounded Final Girls to come along since Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie in Halloween.  The choice to go with more realistic, multifaceted characters with the ability to surprise turns the formula over just enough to keep it fresh and to keep viewers guessing, forcing them to actually focus on what’s happening and give the movie some real thought rather than simply waiting for the next bloodbath to occur.

But even the best written characters mean little without an excellent cast to play them, and here once again The Invoking scores at a level one might not expect from the low budget indie scene. 

I won’t mince words here: Trin Miller should be headlining Hollywood flicks at your local multiplex, and the indie and web scenes are lucky to have her until some big shot casting director wakes up and smells Seattle’s Best.  Her performance as Sam is the single element upon which all else depends, and what she delivers is rock solid and rock steady.  Not that this is a solo act by any means, mind; the supporting cast also does an outstanding job, and the chemistry they display on screen is absolutely perfect.  Never for a moment does the audience doubt that this is a real group of friends where each has some unresolved issues with at least one other, and again, that realism of character made manifest by these wonderful performances is what ultimately makes The Invoking so rewarding…

…and what makes the ending So. Damn. Creepy.

Start to finish, The Invoking is a study in how to do it right.

Bottom line, if you have the opportunity to see The Invoking, see it.  For fans of low budget indie horror whose hopes are trod upon on a regular basis, this movie is your reminder that sometimes, your love and loyalty are rewarded, and rewarded well.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, May, 2013

You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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