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We Summon the Darkness

We Summon the Darkness

The title, though entirely inaccurate, feels like it should
have an exclamation mark or two, and at least one umlaut

dir: Marc Meyers

2020

Set in Indiana in the 1980s, you would be forgiven for thinking that they’re jumping onto some kind of Stranger Things bandwagon with this satanic panic horror flick We Summon the Darkness, what with the promotional poster and all.

It sounds so nasty and metal-y, doesn’t it? Like some bad people are going to do bad things at a metal gig in order to, um, summon the, uh, darkness?

It’s not as convoluted as it might seem. No actual darkness was summoned, harmed or pursued by the makers or participants of this movie. Some bad stuff happens, as in, people are killed (not really, I mean they pretend to kill people, this being a ‘horror’ movie and not reality television after all), but it has less to do with His Satanic Majesty, who thought it would be better to rule in hell than serve in heaven or at a fancy ice cream place, and more to do with three crazy kids who think it would be cool to kill a bunch of other kids and make it look like people are doing Satan’s bidding all over the place.

We watch as three girls get ready for and drive to a gig somewhere in Indiana. It could be some bar, or a barn, or a haystack for all I know. It reminded me of travelling out to suburbs like Croydon to watch gigs at The Hull, which was kind of like travelling back through time to Indiana. The rural sectors of Indiana are not ones I profess to know anything about. To be sure it just looks like a bunch of kids having fun. On the way to the gig, which is of a metal band called Soldiers of Satan or Satanic Pride or Merciful Pancakes or something suitably metal sounding, someone throws a milkshake at their car, which Isn’t Very Insurance-y. Alexis has to clean the windshield. It’s very inconsiderate. It could almost make you want to kill the people that did it, but not quite. And Val, who I’ll get to, has to pee all the time.

The gig is…funny. But to these kids it’s the real deal, I guess, and they’re super into it, kinda. Alexis (Alexandra Daddario) doesn’t know much about these bands of the day that the other ‘kids’ are talking about, like the minutiae of Sabbath and Metallica and Megadeth, and fakes her way through these conversation. If you were ever in a group of friends who were way into music, there was always someone like that in the group. Of course, you could have been that person in the group, that pretended to know all the connections, and to have gone to gigs you couldn’t possibly have gone to, and gotten back stage with whoever.

Val (Maddie Hasson) is super into the music, and knows all the stuff with all the bands, and is very comfortable with her flirtatious and carefree ways, mostly because she’s so busy auditioning not for this flick, but for some potential part where she gets to play Harley Quinn. Beverly (Amy Forsyth), right from the start, seems uncomfortable with everything, whether it’s the hard party lifestyle, or whatever is going to happen next. And she always has to pee.

The other three guys are mostly generic metalhead guys of the 1980s, or at least what the makers imagine they were like. Mullets. Bad peach fuzz facial hair. Sleeves-torn denim vests with patches. Little else.

Since we’ve rolled up on this thing expecting death and destruction, we have to pretend that we don’t yet know who’s going to try to kill whom, even though we’ve spent 30 minutes with one set of people, who seem to be gearing up to do something unspeakable, and another group of people who just want to party and maybe get laid.

Back in the actual 1980s, back when films like this were even cheesier and even more poorly made, wanting sex, drugs and or alcohol was enough to get your character killed. I’m not pretending I’m the first jerk to mention that the slasher genre that gave us the Nightmares on Elm Street, Fridays the 13th and the unending stream of Halloweens has this particular focus on sex and drugs and the sins of one’s parents as the justification (somewhat) of supernatural murder fuckery.

But this flick isn’t moralising at all, even if a couple of the characters moralise in order to justify their bullshit actions and the bullshit thinking behind those actions. It turns out, get this, that the people wanting to murder people aren’t doing it because they’re Satanists who want to kill people in order to please their Dark Lord; they’re actually a bunch of Christian fundamentalists who think if they commit enough of these massacres, people will run to the Church for spiritual safety.

No-one, at least before the murderings begin, has done anything that “justifies” their future status as a corpse yet, because, surely, almost no-one deserves murdering, especially if they have enjoyed drugs and consensual sex with consenting, adulterous drug taking legal adults?

So instead of killing for Satan, they’re killing for Jesus! Sure, that both makes a lot of sense and a lot of difference.

No-one’s going to accuse this flick of making a lot of sense, or of being in any way scary. Of all the characters, the only one that really commits and seems like she’s having fun is the lunatic Val, who clearly isn’t killing because of some far fetched and implausible scheme to boost the church’s coffers; she wants to kill because it seems like fun. She just wants to kill people and then pee, like any responsible person wanting to prevent urinary tract infection after, you know, killing people.

And, oh, of course, killing people seems like loads of fun for the whole family, that is until the potential victims start fighting back because they’ve got nothing better to do.

Sure, there have been a stack of flicks where people get tricked into or sneak their way into a house, only to find themselves at the mercy of the degenerates within, starting with Hansel and Gretel and not really improving since then. This isn’t filmed in any particular novel or ironic way to make the flick anything more special than what it is – a mildly diverting way to spend 90 minutes.

I can’t say any part of it was remotely surprising, or really that enjoyable, but there is an escalation at work, because a) a bunch of random stuff means more people keep coming to the house where everything is happening, and b) the plan is such a terrible plan, and the murderers aren’t being led by a genius with a plan.

It made not a lick of sense that these people would make a murder scene in their own house that looks like a Satanic ritual, with sub-Halloween decorations, kill the trio and make it look like a murder-murder-suicide, which someone actually says is the plan, and then call the cops and say “Um, hi, there’s been a murder? Some people broke into my house, bound themselves to some chairs, then killed themselves? I think they were devil worshippers? Okay thanks bye.”

Problem solved. I guess no-one in this is really that smart, though at least two of the people involved here, being Bev and one of the nicer jerks, both go out of their way to save or help people rather than kill them openly. If anyone deserves to be murdered by their friends, I mean, saved, it’s these two.

But to get to there, there’s a lot of clumsiness, a lot of amateurishness on display, a lot of times where people just wander away for long stretches, and then wander back. I don’t mean in terms of the filmmaking, which is perfectly adequate to the task at hand, I mean stuff like, two people trapped in a pantry, so their opponents try to gas them out, cackhandedly, so that they get gassed. Or using a can of hair spray, to shoot flames under a door, to what effect, now that you mention it?

Not funny enough to be a comedy, not scary enough to be horror, played entirely straight, with characters that don’t make a lot of sense, with nil cleverness, no self-awareness or irony, I can say without a doubt that this was the best horror film I watched yesterday. Of course it was the only movie I watched yesterday, so it wasn’t running against any competition whatsoever.

We Summon The Darkness probably thinks it deserves a sequel. There was no engagement with the music, the hysteria of the times, or anything that really grounded it in the era. If anything, they should have had people trying to kill members of Motley Crue, thus sparing the world from their awfulness.

Maybe the producers will go there, with Sorry, We Summoned the Darkness Again? Or, We Still Keep Summoning the Darkness, or I Swear, This Time We’ll Summon the Darkness (this has never happened before, just bear with me). Maybe, set it in Seattle in the very early 90s, and have a group of angry mothers go after the creators of “grunge” music. They could be slaughtering SubPop employees and early signings, and young versions of Bruce Pavitt and Jonathan Poneman could be the Final Bosses the Concerned Mothers of America, led by Tipper Gore of course, have to take on in the climactic scene!

Now that imagined film I would see, a bunch of times, maybe even risking The Virus to see it in a cinema. This here actual movie that I reviewed? I will probably never think of it again.

6 times most of these people could be doing better films or better things in general with their lives out of 10

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“You girls be careful. There’s a lot of evil out there.”
- “You don’t think we can take care of ourselves?” – well, no-one told me this is what female empowerment was going to look like – We Summon the Darkness

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