[Review] ‘WE SUMMON THE DARKNESS’ a satanic horror comedy without any edge

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James Clay // Film Critic

WE SUMMON THE DARKNESS

Rated R, 90 minutes.
Director: Marc Meyers
Cast: Alexandra Daddario, Maddie Hasson, Johnny Knoxville, Amy Forsyth, Keean Johnson

The threat of violence is certainly scary. It’s the fear of the other and the unknown that plagued the 1980s when Satanic Panic was on the rise, pushing up against the wholesome Reaganomics that took over as the idealized version of the American family.

Hitting On Demand this weekend is Marc Meyers’ film, WE SUMMON THE DARKNESS, and it supposes these frustrations with a subversive smile that attempts to celebrate all things metal and bringing down the establishment with a satanic themed murder party.

The subject matter is intense, but Meyers’ direction Alan Trezza’s screenplay aims to soften the blow. So much so that the comedy is muddled into a plot that struggles to find authenticity.

The film picks up with three friends – Alexis (Alexandra Daddario), Val (Maddie Hasson) and Bev (Amy Forsyth) – cruising to a death metal concert in a righteous red Jeep in search of some headbanging and a party. They live a pretty carefree lifestyle, reading the latest issue of BOP teen magazine and giving each other sh*t as friends typically do. It’s obvious the trio just isn’t the typical hardcore splatter punks that frequent this scene, which comes into play later.

Lurking in radio news briefs is a puritanical threat in a controversial pastor named John Henry Butler (Johnny Knoxville) whose evangelical practices are teetering the edge of a cult leader. But turning down the dial may not be the road best traveled in situations like these as their attention quickly turns to ragin’ the night away. After meeting up with three dudes (Austin Swift, Logan Miller and Keean Johnson) in the parking lot of the show, they all decide to throw an after-party with the presumption of booze and promiscuity lingering something sobering is bound to happen.

Trezza (BURYING MY EX) fashions a script that has a pulpy and poppy tone; however, it alienates the inherent darkness that’s presupposed by the title itself. There’s a trend in horror that filmmakers feel like they have to be two steps ahead of their own story and not just let the plot unfold on its own. The character dynamics between the kids needed some punching up to create the tension that any one of these people could be dead by dawn.

Trezza has issues tying his story into the themes of supposed hypocrisy of neo-Christian musings pushing up against the youthful counterculture. Everything amounts to throwaway lines of dialogue that film from packing a thematic punch. (Check out Jonas Akerlund’s excellent 2018 film LORDS OF CHAOS on Hulu for a look inside the psychology of performative metalheads.) The world created around these metalheads isn’t realized. While the nostalgia train can be grating in movies, the touchstones of the time could have upped the ante to set the mood right.

Daddario and Hasson are having a blast running the show, toying with the naivety of the guys they brought home as they hang on every word and every dare these two women serve up to push the plotting forward. At a brisk 90 minutes, the set up lurches into tedium until a pivotal moment shifts the film’s perspective of looming danger altogether.

The blood begins the spill, and the humor starts to hit harder than before as everything tonally begins to smear. If nothing else, WE SUMMON DARKNESS finds its place in modern landscape for being effortlessly watchable, and maybe it’ll inspire that pentagram tattoo you’ve always wanted.

Grade: C+

WE SUMMON THE DARKNESS is now available on digital platforms.