Panic Fest 2023 Review: INVOKING YELL, Black Metal Blair Witch Invites You Into the Woods
Chilean writer/director Patricio Valladares returns with a new slice-of-life horror film.
Invoking Yell, the new found footage film from Chilean writer/director Patricio Valladares that follows a trio of young women wandering around the woods, will certainly be compared to The Blair Witch Project.
But the movie may actually be more similar to Jonas Åkerlund's Lords of Chaos. It's more a slice of black-metal life in the 1990s than outright horror film.
Invoking Yell spends no time on set up, dropping the audience into a trip with three women through the woods for not entirely specified purposes. They're recording a demo, and a music video, and maybe a behind the scenes making of for the demo and video.
The lack of explanation works well enough, as it doesn't take up time explaining itself, allowing the audience to settle into spending time with these women. Two of them, Andrea (María Jesús Marcone) and Tania (Macarena Carrere), are the titular band "Invoking Yell," while the third, Ruth (Andrea Ozuljevich), wants to join the band and is documenting the trip.
The film spends most of its runtime simply spending time with these characters as they make their way through the woods to the location where they want to shoot their video. These women aren't exactly lovable, Andrea is especially annoying and arrogant about how brilliant she is, but they feel like well-drawn, real people. They talk about creating "depressive suicidal black metal" filled with agony and anguish, but also smile, joke around, and don't take themselves seriously at every moment.
There's a strange comfort to spending time with these characters who feel real and seem to have a well-established rapport, even if they don't always really like each other. But as the film goes on, those existing animosities grow, instilling a daunting social anxiety in the audience. It's a novel and effective way to unnerve your audience, as Valladares leans far more on fears of people thinking you're not cool than any supernatural threats from deep in the woods.
The reason the women go into these woods in particular is so that they can record the sounds of spirits, spirits who lost their lives in a fiery bus crash in the woods years ago and whose wails will make their music that much more horrifying. The movie, though, doesn't spend time building up an atmosphere that makes us fearful of these potentially otherworldly beings that could be unfriendly. The spirits and their potential involvement in the film are almost as much setting as the woods themselves; until the final moments.
When things do take a turn for the horrific, the time we've spent getting to know these characters and their relationships makes the shift much more effective. There's an uncertainty to what is going on when the horror finally arrives that ratchets up the fear by making it impossible to settle on exactly what we're meant to be afraid of, and whether what we are seeing is real or not.
There are some frustrating shots in the finale that break the rules of found footage, but the chaos of the moment makes them easy enough to forgive. But the film's refusal to explain the footage we are seeing, either its purpose or its discovery, becomes an issue when there's an unnecessarily tacked-on epilogue.
Invoking Yell isn't a perfect found footage horror movie, but it feels like authentic 1990s black metal representation, for better and worse, and delivers a genuinely unnerving and horrifying experience that's unique. It won't be for everyone, but it's sure to find an audience that appreciates it.
The film is screening at the ongoing Panic Fest, both in-theater and virtual.