Released on VOD and digital April 2020, horror-comedy We Summon the Darkness is making its way to home video and is coming straight for your living rooms. Directed by Marc Meyers (My Friend Dahmer) from a script by Alan Trezza (Burying the Ex), We Summon the Darkness starts in a familiar yet subversive fashion before drilling into its deeper themes exploring the fetishization of faith. Tackling these themes includes a cast of well-knowns and on-the cusps such as Alexandra Daddario (True Detective), Maddie Hasson (The Finder), Amy Forsyth (Hell Fest), Austin Swift (Live by Night), Logan Miller (Love, SImon), Keean Johnson (Alita: Battle Angel), and Johnny Knoxville (Weightless).
Indiana, 1988: Alexis (Daddario) and her two friends Val and Beverly (Hasson and Forsyth) leave town for a night out at a heavy metal show. Despite a rash of horrific killings having claimed 18 lives across the country, the three girls remain undeterred to go out and have fun. In the parking lot before the show, the three girls meet up with Ivan, Kovacs, and Mark (Swift, Miller, and Johnson), who are following the band for the entire tour as a way of saying goodbye to Mark before he moves to L.A.. After the show, the sextuplet head to Alexis’s house in the woods for a little after party fun. But once the drinks start flowing, murderous intent is revealed and a fight for the soul begins.
Let’s be clear about one thing from the jump: We Summon the Darkness does not pretend to be anything more than what it is. It’s not exploring a deep social issue or a crime against a people. It’s not tearing down the established tropes as it resurrects something new. Rather, Meyers plays into audience expectations, gives us everything we want, but doesn’t always give it to us the way we want it. That’s what makes We Summon the Darkness as much fun as it is. See, rather than give us something horrific in the vein of The Omen (1976) or Rosemary’s Baby (1968), we get something more like Ready or Not (2019) or Satanic Panic (2019), films which acknowledge the audience’s intelligence and uses that to create multiple set-ups and pay-offs, each one being devilishly fun.
If you’re wondering if you should pick this up on home video and the deciding factors are the bonus features, there are only two included: a feature-length audio commentary from Meyers and Trezza and a 16-minute featurette, “Envisioning Darkness,” with much of the principle cast. What’s particularly interesting about “Envisioning Darkness” is that you can tell how invested Meyers, Trezza, and Daddario (who also produced Darkness) are in the film. It makes sense for Trezza, the creator of the story to develop an attachment, but the way Meyers and Daddario discuss it, they seem as equally connected to the material. This isn’t Meyers’s first foray into horror, but this might his most subversively irreverent piece. So many people hold their respective genres sacred that it takes someone willing to try something new to create anything worth remembering. I can applaud Meyers for wanting to do that here. Similarly, Daddario rarely gets the chance to take such a front-and-center role that wasn’t supporting another dude. With Darkness, she gets to let loose in a way we haven’t seen and it’s refreshing to hear her discuss the opportunities the film afforded her. If this sounds like your cup of tea, then you won’t be disappointed from the bonus features. One nice bit worth noting, is that “Envisioning Darkness” doesn’t just focus on the writer, director, and Daddario. It tracks the story from the script, to get Meyers on board, to the cast, to the crew, and even to the special effects. For film nerds, it’s an interesting place to begin before a rewatch.
*What comes next includes some spoilers, so be advised.*
Of the set-ups in Darkness that are hidden, the least is the notion that Alexis, Val, and Beverly are the soon-to-be victims. Trezza tries really hard to convince the audience of this by introducing them first, setting up their relationship to each other, and sending them off to an out of town concert alone. For their part, the three actors are entirely believable as friends and Trezza and Meyers do a wonderful job pacing out the story so that the audience becomes invested in them as people before they fully drop the curtain and show us that – sorry! – these three girls were on the hunt for people to murder. Frankly, the best thing about the twist is how easily the narrative sets up the boys to get caught by way of their surging hormones and their belief that no girl could overpower them. The ease with which the girls subdue them brilliantly underscores how often men view women as innocuous, their hubris born from years of social conditioning. These dudes clearly don’t know that histories best assassins are women and it’s for this exact reason. They can earn your trust, get in close, and you’ll never know they slipped you something until it’s too late. Foreshadowed though it may be, this first twist works largely because Daddario and Hasson work so well together, their energies bouncing off one another, feeding into the other. It’s the second twist where Darkness separates itself from the Satanic Panic crowd: the girls aren’t Satanists, but religious zealots who are part of a larger denomination working together across the country to commit murders as a means of driving people to the church. Here’s where Darkness gets meaty. They see their work as part of a holy mission in a similar vein of the Crusades, meaning that they don’t view themselves as murderers, but as soldiers for Jesus. This is not particularly comedic, though the frequency with which these Soldiers for the Lord take the Lord’s name in vein is, but it does serve as a springboard into what horror does best: explore the darkside of humanity. Any belief system which proclaims a foundation of love and acceptance while encouraging the active persecution or pain of other in its name is not pure of heart. In this case, it’s because the person in charge of the church, Pastor Henry Butler (a very serious and quite scary Johnny Knoxville), is using the church to line his pockets — a revelation that helps serve the thematic portions of the film even if its discovery is all too convenient. There is a serious problem with zealotry and with those who would take advantage of it. Making this the real catalyst for Alexis and the girls to seek out victims is a strong cause for discussion after the movie ends.
This brings me to how Trezza and Meyers use and twist the “Final Girl” within Darkness. When we meet the girls, Beverly is the clear outsider. She’s trying to quit drinking while the other two indulge; she’s a newly adopted member of the group, while Alexis and Val have history; and she is visibly reluctant in every frame until she decides to take action and part ways with the girls. Kudos to Forsyth for a strong internal performance to balance out the mania of Daddario’s. By the rules of horror, Beverly should be the Final Girl, the one who takes out all the baddies and makes it out alive. Yet she’s not. That title goes to Johnson’s Mark. He’s the one who’s kind from the jump, doesn’t instigate bad behavior where the other two boys do, and his character path is to leave behind what he knows for something new. He’s seeking growth, which is usually part of the Final Girl trope: survival by will and wit. Beverly, however, is more interesting because the character’s backstory involves being a runaway who Alexis’s church took in. This, again, goes back to the examination of faith as an instigator of violence. Is it in line with the likes of Jim Jones, David Koresh, or Charles Manson? That may depend on your personal view of faith leaders, but it is safe to acknowledge the a faith that sees the vulnerable among us as tools is not one looking out for the best interests of anyone. As such, Beverly’s breaking of chains makes her less the Final Girl and more the masculine figure in horror films that tries to help the Final Girl make it out.
Like I said, meaty stuff.
We Summon the Darkness may not be headed for the halls of horror history, but that doesn’t mean it should be discounted either. In a tight 91-minutes, audiences go on an adventure that’s darkly comic, often thrilling, a little bit uncomfortable, and rarely in how you expect. Props to the fantastic prosthetic work from Blood Brothers FX out of Montreal who, evidently, made up quite a few ideas on the spot as Meyers and company came to them with new concepts. With the exception of one scene involving burning hair, the rest of the make-up and prosthetics are entirely believable, with one making this reviewer queasy. So, if you’re in the mood for something a little lighter in the horror genre, something that won’t make you check under the bedframe or relock the doors, We Summon the Darkness is the flick for you.
We Summon the Darkness Blu-ray/DVD Special Features
- “Envisioning Darkness” Featurette (16:07)
- Commentary with Director Marc Meyers and Writer Alan Trezza (1:31:02)
Available on VOD and digital beginning April 10th, 2020.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD beginning June 9th, 2020.
Final Score: 3.5 out of 5.