Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2016
Images from the Internet
Written, directed, edited and scored by Dustin Wayde Mills
Blood Sprayer Productions / Dustin Mills Productions (DMP)
71 minutes, 2015
Truth be told, there are three essential reasons why I was looking forward to seeing this film. First and foremost, it was directed by Dustin Wayde Mills, whose works never fail to please, even when it sometimes gets me squeamish. The second reason is Brandon Salkil (okay, and Dave Parker), who often appear in Mills’ productions; Mills,Salkil and Parker are also besties off-screen). Those are the good reasons. The silly yet still honest one is that I was very curious to know whether the title means (a) someone who is lamed (IN-vah-lid), (b) someone who is cancelled out (in-VAL-lid), or (c) both.
There are two, perhaps three central characters in the film. First off, is the titular, Andrew (Salkil) who, thanks to a previous accident, is in a catatonic state of being a “living vegetable” (a descriptor within the story); Salkil – therefore Andrew – is a tall guy, hunched into his wheelchair. The second and central role is his sister, Agnes (Joni Durian), who takes over as caretaker. While not a beanpole, I wonder how she moves him from the bed to the chair and back by herself, but I digress... The lesser third is the physical therapist, Daryl (Parker), who has a bit of a thing for Agnes. I could also add in Daryl’s friend, Jake, whose sole reason for existence here is essentially to help us understand what Daryl is thinking through verbalization, and also to crack wise as the comic relief. He’s played by the director, Mills.
Through the story we quickly learn that Andrew has a way of communicating with Agnes… or does he? How much of this is really happening and how much is in her head, is one of the mind games the film plays with the audience. Is this a kind of Patrick (1978) vibe, or all PTSD? The publicity for Invalid equates it with Italian giallo horror of Argento and Fulci. Well, I can see it more as the former than the latter, as Argento was as much about the internal as the visual, but Fulci was much more about the graphic. I must say I was impressed by the murders here, especially the first one. Now, I’m certainly not saying it’s anticlimactic because the pace definitely keeps up, but that beginning one is just so well done. It’s not gory, just really effective.
As Agnes, Durian is an attractive woman playing frumpy. Ever notice how many horror film caretakers are plain and disheveled, even all the way back to Julie Harris’ Eleanor in 1963’s The Haunting? Perhaps to make her look sallow, or to set a mood, Agnes is often dressed in yellow, and shot with lemony lighting. I’m guessing a bit of both (again), because when things get tense, the lighting changes to a red tone. More films are using colored lighting as much as music to set the tone of the scene, which works strongly here.
As far as the frumpy part goes, it’s pretty obvious that beneath the huge red frames, the slicker, and the loose clothes, Agnes is quite a catch, even though in the storyline there is a reason why she dresses down. However, thanks to an early shower scene, we get to know the book under the cover, as it were, In fact, there are a few shower scenes with various characters throughout, and plenty of female flesh (no male nudity, though Mills has proven that’s not something he necessarily shies away from).
Salkil doesn’t really need to do much, other than lay as still as possible, though there is a highly dramatic and creepy physical flashback scene. He has proven that he can be a fine, highly emotive actor in both dramatic and comedic roles. Even when he’s completely limp, there is still a feeling of dread or danger, and I chalk that up to both his skill onscreen, and of Mills’ effective use of moodiness.
From his silly (but highly enjoyable; not meant as anything but complimentary) films early on, Mills has come to master the simple less-is-more style of presentation that I thoroughly enjoy. Usually there are no elaborate sets, and the stories tend to be pretty straightforward, but there is always the twist of the knife (sometimes literally) and plot that just keeps you drawn in.
Yet, despite the simplicity, Mills often uses some quirk that you just don’t expect. For example, during a conversation, the film suddenly turns to a moving manga comic style that works to explain emotions that straight dialog has trouble getting through. This is a really nice and surprising touch.
Andrew demands blood, much like the plant from Little Shop of Horrors (1960 or 1986), to make him big and strong, but only from women. I first questioned the gender demand, i.e., what makes women’s blood different from men’s, but the symbolism of loss of virginity – even from a paid escort – shows a deranged mind through subjective experience. I’m hoping this isn’t too much of a spoiler alert.
The only two negative things I could see are pretty petty and, quite frankly, ridiculous on my part. First, there is a scene with Andrew on a respirator, and it is silent. As having been in a room with someone in that condition more than once, I can tell you, it’s quite noticeable. Even if you have sleep apnea, the CPAP machine, which is a junior version of an inhalation device, is noisy. The second thing is I believe that there is too much information given about motive in the trailer. Don’t get me wrong, I am a coming attractions fan from childhood, but I’m glad I waited until after seeing the film before enjoying the teasers (as I tend to do now with those I review).
So, the question of what the title means, as I mentioned in the first paragraph? Well, I would say (c) as yes, Andrew is an invalid, but through events that occur or have occurred (again, or both), Agnes and Andrew’s lives become cancelled, one by the accident, and the second by giving up her life to care for him, another by other’s actions.
A good story, some great visuals, and a finely honed cast a crew make this another peg in Mills’ directorial cap, one that should be worn proudly.