[Note: This review gets into spoilers. If you’d like to watch the film spoiler-free, come back after you’ve seen it.]
You can’t review a movie like We Summon the Darkness without talking about the “big twist,” which is already spelled out in the film’s marketing materials (see photo below). Set in the ’80s, it’s about three young women who meet up with three young guys at a heavy metal concert at the same time a rash of satanic murders have been committed in the area. At first, we’re led to believe that the guys, who are super into the metal scene, are the devil worshippers who have been killing for Satan, but at the end of the film’s interminable first act, we learn that the women — Alexandra Daddario, Maddie Hasson and Amy Forsyth — are the crazed killers. The problem is that director Marc Meyers and screenwriter Alan Trezza never commit to a consistent tone here, and it doesn’t help that Daddario is fatally miscast as the group’s vicious ringleader. But let’s start from the beginning.
We Summon the Darkness sure does take its time to get going. I know that’s the tried and true formula with these kinds of low-budget genre movies, which all feature a 20 to 45-minute build-up, at this which point all hell breaks loose, but this film definitely could’ve cut to the chase a lot sooner. Once the boys are incapacitated and restrained, things pick up, but the script fails to go anywhere exciting or original — at least as far as the main characters are concerned. If anything, I appreciated the outside characters that Trezza brings in, like Daddario’s coked-up stepmother and a local police officer who’s smarter than most local cops in these kinds of movies.
Unfortunately, We Summon the Darkness is hampered by Daddario’s performance, which feels like a stretch any way you slice it. I typically like her, and if she had played Maddie Hasson’s role here, she might’ve made a fine number two. But this role is simply out of her range. The only thing I can liken it to would be if Neve Campbell had been cast in Fairuza Balk‘s role in The Craft. You can just feel her acting here.
The reason people like Anthony Hopkins, Charlize Theron, Javier Bardem and Heath Ledger won Oscars is because it’s actually pretty hard to play a convincing psychopath. It looks like it’d be easy, because you just make crazy eyes and run around laughing and screaming in equal measure, but having seen my fair share of movie psychos, I can say with certainty that it’s no cakewalk. Daddario isn’t up to the challenge, at least armed with this script, which veers between morbid comedy and real darkness, ultimately coming up short on both fronts, especially when the jokes undercut the tension. Trezza pulled this off with the superior Daddario horror comedy Burying the Ex, but Meyers never strikes the proper balance the way that Joe Dante did with that 2014 zombie rom-com.
Meanwhile, Canadian newcomer Forsyth practically steals the film as the reluctant but fiery new girl, and I’ll admit that I liked Austin Swift (yes, Taylor Swift‘s brother) here, and wish he had more screen time. Keean Johnson, try as he might, is a little too bland for my taste, and while I’m a fan of Logan Miller and think he’s really talented, this is a thankless role for him, as “bleeding” is not a personality trait. Johnson and Miller are basically playing Guy #1 and Guy #2 here, and maybe that’s a comment on the way many genre movies treat their female victims as Girl #1 and Girl #2, but maybe I’m just grasping for some kind of meaning in a fairly straight-forward story about the evils of religion.
That’s right. Johnny Knoxville pops up in the final reel as a televangelist who may not practice what he preaches. Knoxville is a comedic genius, but unfortunately, I have never really bought him in a dramatic part, and that continues with this film. He’s another performer who is very good at a very specific thing, but the further you get from that comfort zone, the more disastrous the results, and like Daddario, he’s sorely miscast as a pastor here. And I say that as someone whose Facebook banner photo is a photo of the two of us together.
Meyers impressed me with his 2017 adaptation of the acclaimed graphic novel My Friend Dahmer, and while his workmanlike direction is perfectly adequate, this is ultimately a disappointing genre effort. Having said that, desperate times call for desperate measures, and this will scratch a certain itch for many genre fans and satisfy their pent-up bloodlust. I promise you it’s not great, but depending on your interest level, it may be worth a late-night rental, and I certainly prefer it to recent movies like Come to Daddy and Guns Akimbo. The truth is that We Summon the Darkness just never fully lives up to its potential, and in the end, is not as much fun as I was expecting — though any movie that pays tribute to late Metallica guitarist Cliff Burton can’t be all bad.