Few things are better-suited for one another than horror, heavy metal, and Satan. Much has already been written about the Satanic moral panic that emerged in the 1980’s. Heavy metal bands that infused their music and public image with Satanic themes – Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Motley Crüe – drew the ire of moral entrepreneurs and censors. As trivial and silly as it seems today, this moral panic prompted very real fear among the public, which saw a lawsuit against Judas Priest and serious miscarriages of justice. To date, the horror genre has already taken a few stabs at the ‘Satanic Panic’ of the 80’s, most notably The House of the Devil. Now we have the well-received horror-comedy, We Summon the Darkness.
It’s the 1980’s and three friends – Alexis, Val, and Beverly – are on their way to a heavy metal concert. On the car ride, radio broadcasts warn of a recent string of murders in the area blamed on a cult of devil worshippers. Despite the warnings, Alexis and her friends don’t seem to have a care in the world. At the concert, the girls meet a trio of boys who they invite to party with them after the show. But someone isn’t who they say, and drinking games quickly turn to a fight for survival.
We Summon the Darkness Offers a ‘Two-For-One’ Subversive Twist
Taken at face value, We Summon the Darkness seems like pretty rote stuff. Even now there’s no shortage of slasher updates, and the 1970’s and 1980’s produced their fair share of ‘Satanic Panic’ movies. Just last year we got the fun horror comedy, Satanic Panic. Initially, Alan Trezza’s screenplay doesn’t look like it’s going to offer much more than a standard, if not decent, slasher movie. Like Ti West House of the Devil, director Marc Meyers shows a surprising amount of restraint. We’re given surprisingly ample time with Alexis and her friends and their new ‘metalhead’ friends.
Though other recent horror movies have subverted the ‘Final Girl’ narrative, We Summon the Darkness’ gender role reversal completely skewers it.
Where We Summon the Darkness flips the script is with its subversive take on the material. Not only do Meyers and Trezza challenge the ‘Final Girl’ trope, but they simultaneously turn the tables on their ‘Satanic’ theme. Though other recent horror movies have subverted the ‘Final Girl’ narrative, We Summon the Darkness’ gender role reversal completely skewers it. Not all the comedy lands, but it’s this part of Meyers’ movie that works best. Yet perhaps it’s Trezza’s twist on the ‘Satanic cult’ plot that gives We Summon the Darkness its most potent bite. Arguably, Trezza’s subversive take on religion and hypocrisy will give the movie a long shelf life.
We Summon the Darkness Struggles to Balance Humor and Horror
Unfortunately, We Summon the Darkness doesn’t quite nail its formula. The basic conceit at the heart of its premise is clever and inherently funny in and of itself. Additionally, the performances are brimming with manic energy. Nevertheless, Meyers occasionally struggles to balance the horror and comedy elements. We Summon the Darkness boasts a couple of gruesome death scenes, but it’s never raucously over-the-top. Nor is it ever really scary or suspenseful. And outside of the premise and performances, there’s no one bit that’s memorably funny. In fact, one might argue that the humour is rather muted. We Summon the Darkness works best as a subversive horror movie rather than a horror-comedy.
Alexandra Daddario Truly Shines in a Fun Role
Over the course of her career, Alexandra Daddario has amassed a fairly impressive filmography. To date, however, her forays into horror have been underwhelming. Following Steve Mena’s Malevolence prequel, Bereavement, Daddario starred in the awful Texas Chainsaw 3D. Nevertheless, Daddario’s talented and, with the right material here, she truly shines. She delivers a wickedly fun performance that launches We Summon the Darkness into high speed for its third act. Joining Daddario in the movie’s fun final act, Maddie Hasson lights up the screen with her charismatic performance.
Nevertheless, Daddario’s talented and, with the right material here, she truly shines.
While Johnny Knoxville has high billing on the movie, his role amounts to little more than a glorified cameo. For the most part, Knoxville’s presence isn’t much more than an ‘inside joke’ given his casting against type. Amy Forsyth, last seen in Hell Fest, doesn’t have as juicy a role as either Daddario or Hasson. But she turns in a restrained performance that lends some ambiguity to her character. If there’s another young performer who impresses, it’s Keean Johnson. Certainly, Trezza’s screenplay deserves credit, but Johnson’s performance completely contradict his mullet-haired, slacker appearance. In addition to its clever screenplay, the performances make We Summon the Darkness a great deal of fun.
We Summon The Darkness Makes a Fun Pact with the Devil
Despite falling a little short on some fronts, We Summon the Darkness nails its subversive tale and delivers a fun slasher movie. We’ve seen similar efforts at skewering the same horror tropes, but We Summon the Darkness nevertheless feels like a fresh take. Throw in a couple of fun performances from Alexandra Daddario and Maddie Hasson along with a surprising amount of restraint in the early going, and you get one of the best indie horror outings thus far in 2020.