– By Allan Lear
The urban legend is fertile ground for the horror film-maker, film-making being – as we know – generally approached as a process whereby the moribund intellectual property of long-tapped-out sources is wired up to a low voltage and the resultant gentle twitching and spasming is presented to an audience as a simulacrum of life. The progenitors of urban legends are anonymous, gestalt and, in the majority of cases, probably long since dead or senescent, so there are no royalties to be shared and no credit to be awarded. The hack writer can simply pass off the idea as his own or, if the urban legend in question is widely known or if even this minimal effort is beyond the hack’s lethargic capacity for action, he can present the script as the film of the legend. He might, if he were feeling especially insouciant that day, even call the script something like Urban Legend.
This is an exercise in that most useful of film-making arts, the management of expectations. Such an approach guarantees that a film will slide under the attention of connoisseurs, genuine thrill-seekers or the more annoyingly knowledgeable critics and end up going direct to DVD or VOD, eking out a marginal return on the creators’ grudging outlay by means of the viewings of completists or those seeking compromise viewings between the hardcore horror fan and her squeamish fluffy-bunny partner.
Of course, this self-imposed lack of efficacy can be broken if a substantial effort is made to break the urban legend’s formula or add to its mythology. Countless and forgotten are the number of films that have referenced the old myth of the hook-handed mentalist on top of a car, dribbling a boyfriend’s head off the roof like he can’t decide whether he’s LeBron James or Edmund Kemper. On the other hand, the tired old trope of a stupid wee filly staring into a mirror and muttering “Bloody Mary” was given fresh life in Candyman (before being beaten to death again by sequels) with interesting and visually compelling twists like the torso full of bees and the balefully charismatic presence of the titular sweet-stockist himself.
It is true that, in a medium full of plagiarism, imitation, copycatting, inspiration-lifting and downright theft, originality of any sort is so rare that we can be grateful to leap on its anaemic relative, A New Twist On An Old Idea, with the sort of joy and alacrity with which a five-year castaway would pounce upon a washed-up crate full of Fleshlights. In the absence of freshly-ground coffee beans, caffeine addicts turn to Baldrick’s mug-o-mud for withdrawal relief.
But that still doesn’t explain Invoke. Invoke is a short film from somebody calling himself Carlos Omar de León, which is a romantic and exotic-sounding piece of nomenclature that, on this evidence, he is a long way from earning. I’m going to call him Chad. Labyrinth Films are behind Chad’s five-minute horror short which, as the sharpest among you may have guessed, is a film about an evil spirit being invoked by a twit with a mirror. Yes, that again.
Invoke is the infertile hybrid of Candyman and The Ring. Our lead actress, Debbi Jones, is sitting around with her milquetoast boyfriend (Brett DeJager, doing nothing with a nothing role). She sends him away so she can get some sleep (ALL-ACTION STUFF!) but instead receives a text message telling her to listen to a mysterious sound file. The sound file is a bit of exposition about a ghost who appears if you INVOKE her by muttering some bullshit into a mirror. Inexplicably, she does so. Why do these people do this? If you believed in the ghost, you wouldn’t dare do it, and if you didn’t believe, you wouldn’t bother. Only in films will people do something that is both potentially dangerous and magnificently pointless when there isn’t a chance of getting laid or paid as a reward.
From then on, and with one minute to go, things proceed as expected pretty much straight away. The film ends with the curse being passed on Ringu-fasion to the next poor fool on the shitlist, which is to say, the film’s only other actor (DeJager again, giving a passable impression of being as asleep, though not as good as the one I was doing at this stage).
Invoke looks to me very much like a piece for a director’s showreel. It’s well-lit and it’s shot very professionally for what must have been a minimal budget, though without any particular flair that I can see; there’s nothing here that we haven’t seen in five Paranormal Activity films (or rather, Paranormal Activity and its four bafflingly rapid remakes). Narratively it certainly isn’t surprising or involving in any way, and its saving grace is that at five minutes in length it doesn’t eat up enough of your life to be worth actively resenting. Debbi Jones is a good, believable lead but doesn’t really have so much to do that it is worth her while doing it.
No; the target audience for this film is not an audience at all, but an Assistant Head of Department at some minor film studio who may be looking for a journeyman director like Chad to take on some of the less creative adverts or music videos he needs to churn out on the contractual conveyor. For people trawling the internet for new and interesting ideas showcasing original writing or directorial talent, Invoke can be safely relegated to the pile of things that, like the friends-of-friends-of-friends who wind up mangled and catatonic in favourite urban legends, you have heard all about but never actually seen.