Wednesday 15 April 2020

We Summon the Darkness (USA 2019: Dir Mark Meyers)

Be warned; this review contains (unavoidable) plot spoilers.

Spunky Alexis (Alexandra Daddario), weak bladdered Val (Maddie Hasson) and former runaway Beverley (Amy Forsyth) are three young biker-esque friends journeying by van to a heavy metal concert by Soldiers of Satan. It's Indiana in 1988 (although filmed in Canada), and hard rock is not a popular music in that part of the world: local evangelist Pastor John Henry Butler (Johnny Knoxville) is on TV preaching against its evil influences, and a local paper glimpsed in a drugstore carries a headline about teens slain in a satanic killing. Is there a connection?

Outside the gig the girls reconnect with the occupants of a battered RV who, en route, overtake and chocolate milkshake bomb Alexis and her friends (Alexis gives an early example of future behaviour by tasting the brown gunge splattered on her van before knowing what it is). The guys in the van are friends and sometime band members Mark (Keean Johnson), Lovacs (Logan Miller) and Ivan (Austin Swift). They're as ungainly and goofy as the girls are smart and sassy, but after the gig Alexis invites everyone back to her dad's place nearby for "booze, a great sound system and Nintendo."

Several drinks later, and just as the audience are wondering where all this is heading, the guys become drowsy. Yep, their drinks have been spiked, and what they thought was going to be a perfect night becomes anything but. For Alexis and her team are in reality members of a church whose version of doing the Lord's work involves slaying anyone who doesn't follow its creed. The heavy rock outfits are worn to trap the unwary, and the boys are the latest in a long line of the unfaithful about to be despatched via a modus operandi designed to make everyone believe it's just another satanic ritual murder.

Most of We Summon the Darkness becomes a cat and mouse game in which the boys - or those still alive - attempt to escape the murderous intentions of the girls. To leaven the setup, some new characters are added as casual house visitors, but they're pretty much there to up the body count. None of this is particularly sophisticated, which is surprising in that Meyers' last movie was the reflective My Friend Dahmer (2017), but the action is handled well and the comedy, while never reaching belly laugh heights, is sufficiently deadpan to keep the movie from being just another slashathon. There's a good sense of time and place too; the music and (for the most part) dialogue are authentically of their time, and a key irony within the movie is that the (male) authority figures refuse to believe that the girls could be capable of violence.

Daddario is the standout here, throwing herself into the role of 'Reckless' Alexis (as her father names her) much as Betty Gilpin did in this year's The Hunt. While her two supports, Hasson and Forsyth, are equally game, everyone else here is rather two dimensional, but the film isn't to be enjoyed for its depth of character, but rather as a table turning, girls on top ride with sass and gore galore.

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