[Brooklyn Horror Review] SUMMONERS
SUMMONERS l Brooklyn Horror Film Festival
They say that friendship is magical. Sometimes it literally is. In SUMMONERS, two women rediscover just how powerful their friendship is.

Jessica Whitman (played by Christine Nyland) impulsively drives to her hometown in the middle of the night, going straight to her childhood home to crash with her dad. Her mother, we learn, died years before; Jessica has never healed from the wound it left. The next morning, she runs into her childhood best friend, Alana Wheeler (McLean Peterson), who still lives in town. Not exactly by choice, though. Alana’s been having some financial and employment issues. She also doesn’t enjoy going out to bars in their town anymore, but won’t tell Jessica why.

The two rekindle their friendship, reminiscing on old gossip and teenage shenanigans—like the witchcraft they used to practice together in the woods. They had even made an altar out of rocks.

It’s been ten years since Jessica practiced; Alana, on the other hand, never stopped. And now Alana needs Jessica’s help and support with a major spell involving an ancient “sin-eating” entity. Jessica reluctantly agrees. The two perform the ritual together…but Alana wasn’t entirely truthful about the reason she wanted to cast this spell. Something goes wrong. And now the two are being tormented by a very angry sin-eater.

At its core, SUMMONERS (written and directed by Terence Krey) is a film about trauma. Jessica is traumatized by her mother’s death (which was preceded by a terminal illness) and is harboring guilt for not telling her father that she had been having an affair with their neighbor. Alana is drowning in guilt because a child she was babysitting died in a freak accident; on top of her trauma, she’s now ostracized by the people in their town, including those she had been friends with.

The film is also about friendship. Alana and Jessica’s friendship is able to be rekindled so quickly and so completely because theirs is the type that welcomes vulnerability and inspires courage even in the face of dark and vengeful forces—from the supernatural and from their own hometown.

SUMMONERS’ brand of horror is the quiet, subtle type. The pacing allows us to get to know the protagonists well enough to develop empathy for them before ramping up the fright. The traditionally scary scenes are also quiet, but that doesn’t mean they’re not horrifying. They are. Maybe even more so because of the way it sneaks up on you just when you start to get comfortable, like a chill on the back of your neck or a sudden thud coming from the other room when you’re home alone.

The portrayal of witchcraft in this film is also worth discussing. There’s no wand waving or telekinesis in SUMMONERS. The ritual that the women perform is grounded in actual witchcraft practices. They use specific herbs and flowers, they surround themselves with sea salt, and light candles. They use their own blood—that’s how you know this spell is a heavy one. They also invoke a specific entity, the sin-eating Ikbal, who was created specifically for this film but is based on actual mythology.

SUMMONERS is a well-written and beautifully shot film. It’s brought together by the phenomenal performances of the small cast. Nyland (who also co-wrote the film) and Peterson play with and off each other with an incredible level of authenticity and depth. Their characters’ friendship is believable—at points, it’s heart-wrenching to watch them. Nyland also shares the screen with Larry Fessenden, who plays Jessica’s father, Doug. Their scenes together are played to perfection: a bit awkward and stilted, but there’s still an undercurrent of love that anchors it.

The film confronts dark topics and there are some genuinely scary moments. Still, it’s funny at times and sad at others. It has a satisfying ending, and there’s a cat who neither dies nor is bothered by the spirit of Ikbal. It’s also reminiscent of the 1998 film Practical Magic, so if you’re a fan of that, you’ll probably love this one. In short, SUMMONERS was a joy to watch. I cannot recommend it enough.

SUMMONERS played as a part of the 2022 Brooklyn Horror Film Festival.

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