We Summon the Darkness is a film that subverts expectations early and often. As soon as I thought I had things figured out, I realized that everything I assumed to be true was wrong. The flick kept me guessing and kept me (mostly) entertained until the end.
The film takes place during the height of Satanic Panic in 1988. Appropriately, there is a killer (or killers) on the loose picking off victims in a series of ritualistic murders. We follow a trio of female metalheads (Alexandra Daddario, Maddie Hasson, and Amy Forsyth) as they make their way to a rock show. Before the show, the ladies meet three gentlemen with similar interests and make plans to meet up later. It may seem like things are going in the obvious direction from there but I’m pleased to say that We Summon the Darkness rarely does what’s expected.
As I mentioned previously, this is a film about subverting expectations and it does that early and often. Are the women at the center of the feature the heroes? Are they the villains? Are they somewhere in-between? I don’t want to spoil anything, so you’ll have to watch and find out for yourself.
What I can tell you is that these ladies are not damsels in distress. They are fully in control and they aren’t afraid to flip the gender paradigm. The women in We Summon the Darkness have the best dialogue of all the characters and are frequently one-upping their onscreen male counterparts, whether it’s with their superior knowledge of metal music trivia or their ability to effortlessly wield a weapon.
We Summon the Darkness makes the obvious but underrepresented point that women can do anything a man can. They can be good, they can be bad, they can be morally ambiguous. They can be heroes. They can be villains. Why we see so little of this sentiment (even in genre fare) is perplexing but I must give credit to screenwriter Alan Trezza (Burying the Ex) for scripting well-rounded, capable, three-dimensional female characters.
It’s easy to see that director Marc Meyers (My Friend Dahmer) gave his lead actresses the freedom to make the characters their own and the film is better for it. In fact, star Alexandra Daddario served as a producer, which helps explain how we got (what I consider) a fiercely female-focused film from a male writer and a male director. I commend Meyers for realizing that to make a movie about women you need the input of women. I look forward to seeing more of that attitude from within and outside the horror genre in the future.
As far as the male characters, Johnny Knoxville is the most worthy of note. He plays televangelist John Henry Butler. And it’s a complete tonal shift from roles we’ve seen Knoxville play in the past. He embodies his character with surprising aplomb, to the point of being almost unrecognizable. Even more impressive, according to the behind-the-scenes featurette included with the home video release, Knoxville was only on set for one day and was able to nail every scene in which he appears.
Logan Miller, Austin Swift, and Keean Johnson all deliver serviceable performances as the metalheads the ladies meet up with early in the film. But this isn’t necessarily a movie about them. They are largely there to serve as cannon fodder and they do a fine job of stepping aside to let the ladies do their thing.
At its core, We Summon the Darkness is a film that encourages us to open our eyes and resist the urge to take everything we see at face value without ever stopping to take a second look. We often blindly accept that those that purport to be good are such and those we perceive as evil are exactly that. However, particularly where religion is concerned, good and evil aren’t always so cut and dried.
We Summon the Darkness is now available on home video. The Blu-ray release has a (roughly) fifteen minute making of doc that gets into the minds of the actors and the creative team. And there’s also a commentary track that I’m looking forward to diving into the next time I watch. If you haven’t given this flick a chance, I encourage you to check it out.
WICKED RATING: 7/10
Director(s): Marc Meyers
Writer(s): Alan Trezza
Stars: Alexandra Daddario, Maddie Hasson, and Amy Forsyth
Release: June 9, 2020 (Home Video)
Studio/ Production Co: Saban Films
Sub-genre: Satanic Panic