By JAMES TUCKER
Starring: Alexandra Daddario, Amy Forsyth, Maddie Hasson
Directed by Marc Meyers
Written by Alan Trezza
Produced by Nightshade Entertainment
And so, Netflix “week” draws to a close. It’s been fun taking a break from Shudder, much as I love it, and seeing what else is out there. There are still a number of films on Netflix I’d like to cover, such as The Heretics, Assimilate, and maybe even Terrifier (just for fun), but it’s time to move on to something else. I think I picked a decent film to close us off with, as WE SUMMON THE DARKNESS is a decent middle-of-the-road cult thriller that tries to put a new spin on the genre with… mostly mixed results.
WE SUMMON THE DARKNESS is an entertaining, if messy, take on the Satanic Panic and its roots that verges on being an accidental horror comedy. It starts with your typical slasher-esque setup: three women looking to party and have fun invite three boys they meet at a concert to come back to their house with them to “keep the party going.” They meet a “harbinger,” an elderly gas station attendant with a hat that reads “old as dirt” who warns them to be careful cause they “seem like nice girls.” To top it all off, serial murders are breaking out across the country as a cult called “We Summon the Darkness” does their thing; this is mentioned in the same way as a convict escaping from a mental asylum, or the legend of a camp counselor who started collecting camper’s faces, less Chekov’s gun than Chekov’s cannon. Only the ACTUAL plot of WE SUMMON THE DARKNESS rides on a twist, and one that wasn’t exactly carefully concealed; quiet conflict between the film’s characters reveals that there’s much more under the surface of this stereotypical setup than appears at first glance. Everything gets revealed after the 30-minute mark, and from there it becomes a bit of a farce as the killers desperately try (and fail spectacularly) at eliminating their targets. There is a Home Alone level of incompetence on display as the antagonists argue with one another over who does what, the police get involved, and other unwelcome persons show up on property. It’s still entertaining, but only marginally, and it’s certainly not thrilling.
“WE SUMMON THE DARKNESS doubles down on the notion that the devil is the best friend the church ever had.”
The messaging of the film tends to be a tad blunt, but insightful enough to give some weight to the film’s proceedings and offset the film’s missteps a bit. The notion that the Satanic Panic was constructed by Christians for Christians as a recruitment tool is not exactly a new one, but the ways in which the film’s characters grapple with that notion is what gives the film meaning. Much of the film’s runtime is dedicated to exploring the depths of religious fanaticism, the limits of what people will do when they believe they’re in the right and (to a lesser extent) the ways in which mainstream Christianity (in particular) preys on the needy and the vulnerable. Most of the best moments in the film, arguably, center around Johnny Knoxville’s character “John Henry Butler,” a megachurch preacher who (like a social media “influencer” on crack) is willing to sacrifice everything to gain more followers. The last fifteen minutes or so of the film are its’ strongest, bringing the farce to a close as character arcs are brought to a head and several showdowns take place across the house. That being said, the last minute or so did feel a bit on the nose as a character visits the harbinger from the beginning, tells him “don’t believe everything you hear,” and drives off into the metaphorical sunset.
On the nose is actually a great way to describe this film’s messaging all around. I’m a sucker for cults, satanic horror, and new takes on both; I was hoping this might be a film where the “Satanists” weren’t the bad guys, and I guess in a way I got that. But the bulk of the plot revolves around the film’s would be killers fumbling through killing their targets, messing up so badly that they bring all kinds of hell down on themselves. It’s 30 minutes of setup, 30 minutes of the unreleased cut of Home Alone 4, 20 or so minutes of conflict and plot threads being tied up, and the rest is all credits. I’m a big fan of the anti-religious messaging and the ways in which (in particular) Alexis and Bev’s character arcs are constructed, but this film could have used a more tightly wound plot that didn’t dip so far into a different genre. The actual criticisms this film lobbies against organized religion are insightful, but it takes more than that to make a film strong.
I’m giving WE SUMMON THE DARKNESS a 7. I could also give it a 6, but I believe that Bev and Alexis’ character arcs push it over the top. It’s not the best film ever, but it was entertaining, and the last twenty minutes did make an impression on me.
Next time, we dig into what Hulu has to offer. Stay tuned.