Invoking Yell

Invoking Yell (2023)

Invoking Yell has its international première at Panic Fest 2023

One of the disparate story strands in Patricio Valladares’ Covid-curtailed, inchoate sci-fi Embryo (2020) involved a music video shoot gone awry in the Chilean backwoods – and with Invoking Yell, Valladares, working with his regular co-writer Barry Keating, revives this basic premise, while confounding the viewer’s sense of genre.

This ambiguity of genre is established in the two different texts which open the film. The first is a quote from the sociologist Maximiliano Sánchez Mondaca (who contributed to the book Heavy Metal Music in Latin America: Perspectives from the Distorted South, 2020) about the global spread of black metal in the Nineties, and the concomitant rise in “satanic rituals, acts of vandalism, and homicides” amongs its proponents. The second quote concerns so-called ‘psychophonies’, or sounds recordings “thought to be the voices of spirits”. 

These two quotes represent a dichotomy that runs throughout Invoking Yell. For as, in June 1997, Andrea (María Jesús Marcone) and Tania (Macarena Carrere), the two would-be members of the world’s “only all-female black metal band”, head out into the woods with Ruth (Andrea Ozuljevich) who is filming all their EVP antics and hardcore devilry to help promote their first demo tape, it is unclear whether we are witnessing a genuine ritualistic summoning of paranormal forces from the supposedly cursed area, or just a trio of young women driven to extreme acts by a toxic mix of drinking, drugs and addled ideology. For while the ghosts of children killed in a bus accident are said to haunt these trees, Invoking Yell is equally haunted by the spirit of Jonas Åkerlund’s Lords of Chaos (2018), about the violent unravelling of Norwegian black metal band Mayhem.  

“They’re posers,” Andrea says near the beginning of Invoking Yell, dismissing their black metal rivals who seek out fame rather than “creating agony, and suffering”, which she believes should be the true goal of their art. Yet Andrea and Tania are posers too, constantly preening and posturing before Ruth’s camera in their customised clothes and eventually their gothic makeup, and ever out to offend. Still, while Tania seems just to be a minor misfit merely cosplaying as a bad girl while seeking out lightly transgressive fun, stern, schizophrenic Andrea appears to have swallowed wholesale both her own malevolent rhetoric and the mixed-up mythology that she regularly mouthes – and her animosity towards Ruth, an outsider looking to get in, is palpable from early on. This may be about three young women trying to break out in the world of music, but their increasingly dark escapades are a long way from Lukas Moodysson’s We Are The Best! (2013).

Yet even as psychological and supernatural explanations compete to frame the events of Invoking Yell, keeping its specific genre (ghost story? delinquent psychodrama?) tentative at best, the film’s format is clearer. For like Embryo, this is ‘found footage’, with everything that we see purporting to be sourced from Ruth’s digital files or Super 8 film, and now retrieved by local authorities as “evidence of potential crimes”. Or might these tapes, and the brutal killings that they appear to document, just be the ‘joke’ promo video that the three young women intended to make all along – a manifesto of their shock aesthetics, concocted and fabricated to give their band Invoking Yell its own place in music legend and, as Andrea puts it, “establish us in the black metal scene”? 

As intradiegetic handheld cameras track three young people getting lost in the woods. Invoking Yell obviously evokes Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez’s The Blair Witch Project (1999), although the fact that they are there to record a music video also suggests Robbie Banfitch’s The Outwaters (2022). Like both of those films, the build-up is somewhat slow and meandering, and the characterisation, caught on the fly, is hardly a strong point – but once the mayhem is unleashed and the blood starts to be spilt, there is an uncanny time to be had working out where the performative artifice ends and the real horror begins, and what the precise nature of that real horror might be – all of which turns out, funnily enough, to be like trying to see the wood for the trees. One way or another, these women are going to yell…

strap: In Patricio Valladares’ found footage ghost story/freakout psychodrama, three women try to put black metal on the Chilean map

© Anton Bitel