You mention 1) a metal-horror movie (with rarely seen female protagonists!) 2) a Satanic Panic backdrop, and 3) set in the ’80s.
Say no more. Sign me up.
And that’s exactly what Marc Meyers‘ WE SUMMON THE DARKNESS is…but only for about the first 30-35 minutes.
When we meet friends Alexis (Alexandra Daddario), Bev (Amy Forsyth), and Val (Maddie Hasson), as they travel to a hair metal concert somewhere in the middle of Indiana in the late ’80s – I was on board. Though some of the ’80s nostalgia (ring pops, denim jackets, crimped hair) felt a little put-on and less authentic than, let’s say, something like Stranger Things – possibly because of WE SUMMON THE DARKNESS‘ visibly low budget – the now-laughable “Satanic Panic” of the 1980s is felt, as television sets in storefronts display an evangelical pastor spewing about “evil metal corrupting youth” and the like, as the three girls giggle and get ready to rock out at their concert. In fact, the pastor on the TV is even played by an unusually-casted-for-this-role Johnny Knoxville, which was a great little surprise.
Initially, the three girls at the forefront are cool, charismatic, take-no-BS, and relatable. They know their shit about metal, as they namedrop Dio, Scorpions, Def Leppard, and Slayer when talking to dudes (and women who listen to and are educated about metal is a rarity within the metal-horror subgenre, and something I wish we got more of). When a few guys chuck a drink at their windshield as they’re driving, they get their paybacks – in spades. They end up forgiving and befriending the three guys during a pre-concert tailgate, before eventually bringing them home with them after the show. All the girls and guys are drinking around the fire, sharing stories, and having a good time, until Bev notices that Mark (Keean Johnson) is carrying around a switchblade. Everything up until this point is entertaining and makes for easy-watching, as you’re wondering where exactly the film is going to go – however – it’s after one particularly climactic reveal that WE SUMMON THE DARKNESS begins to pivot into something else entirely, which, admittedly, started to wane my interest.
Without giving too much away, a certain twist undoes the whole metal-horror movie thing that had attracted me to WE SUMMON THE DARKNESS in the first place. The girls partake in an activity that I definitely did not see coming, but, unfortunately, this never feels earned or explained enough, as WE SUMMON THE DARKNESS makes the no-no mistake of creating a twist for the sake of a twist, and not because it makes a whole lot of sense. And this clutters the film’s pacing too, as it feels as if we jumped from act 1 and ran straight to act 3, with no middle chunk. The movie doesn’t know where to head after its reveal, and it suffers because of this.
While some may be delighted to see a reversal of familiar gender movie tropes, others, like myself, may be disappointed in the way these women are written – it feels very poser-y and cheap – and a theme of religious zealotry that is hinted at in the TV spots with Knoxville’s character does come full circle, just not in a satisfying way (for me, at least). While the film refreshingly takes the heat off of the fear of Satanism of that time and suggests other kinds of secretive, manipulative, religious extremists are the real villains to fear, its repeated concern with brainwashing, again, is never explained fully enough and feels meandering within some of its clunky dialogue.
Aside from some of my disappointments with WE SUMMON THE DARKNESS, I’d still recommend you give it a shot. All the performances are solid, but it is Alexandra Daddario that anchors WE SUMMON THE DARKNESS, as she fluctuates between sweet leader and rad, crazed chaos. Her performance is worth the 90 minutes alone. I’d even suggest you make a night of it and pair it with the recently released Sadistic Intentions, another quasi-metal horror indie with characters that have ulterior motives.
WE SUMMON THE DARKNESS may not have been everything a metal-horror lover’s dreams are made of, but it’s enough to pop on and have an alright time. WE SUMMON THE DARKNESS arrives on Digital and VOD on April 10, 2020.