Hot off his critical success with 2017’s My Friend Dahmer, Marc Meyers appears to be a rising star in the indie cinema world. Dipping his toes into numerous genres, Meyers has tried his hand at horror with the Alexandra Daddario starring and Johnny Knoxville appearing We Summon the Darkness. I sincerely hope My Friend Dahmer wasn’t a fluke as his follow-up feature leaves much to be desired.
Set in an all-too-vague late 80s USA, a trio of friends are travelling cross country to attend a heavy metal gig. Meanwhile, radio and TV stations are obsessed with reporting on a sequence of grisly murders connected to a Satanic cult. Our protagonists meet up with another group of friends who have been following the heavy metal band all over the country, though all isn’t as it seems when they decide to take the after-party elsewhere.
We Summon The Darkness has a promising young cast (and Johnny Knoxville) at its disposal, with the aforementioned Daddario (True Detective), Keean Johnson (Alita: Battle Angel), and Logan Miller (Scout’s Guide to the Apocalypse) among others, but the ensemble isn’t given nearly enough material to work with. Our groups of friends all mirror one another, each member assigned a bland archetype – we have the ring leaders, the wild cards, and the shy guys. As a result, only one character – Maddie Hasson’s Val – makes a lasting impression. Where the other five appear to be going through the motions, Hasson fills her character with some manic energy that makes Val at least slightly compelling. The film is chock full of surface level character studies – the shy guys feel particularly under baked throughout – but at least Hasson gives it her all, adding some genuine interest to her scenes.
As the most experienced actor of the main ensemble, Daddario is given much of the heavy lifting in terms of plot, but aside from one actually intriguing scene when the rug is pulled from underneath us, Daddario doesn’t imbue her character with much interest until it’s all too late in the day for it to matter. An eleventh hour reveal does little to change the fact that she is going through the motions while lacking the magnetism we expect from our main protagonist.
Still, while I have my complaints about the performances, much of the blame lies with Alan Trezza’s screenplay. There is a genuinely surprising moment around a third of the way through the film that spins the mystery of the film into a new light; while I saw one element of it coming, the larger motive around it was nicely revealed. The problem, however, is that this reveal happens far too early. With around an hour of run-time to go, We Summon The Darkness struggles to establish any momentum, descending into a single-location cat and mouse game that only manages to emphasise its low budget.
The screenplay constantly forces characters into literal dead ends – two characters stay trapped in a cupboard for an egregiously long time – and tries to inject excitement with outside forces. A couple of surprise visits do little to improve the affair, only serving to add to the slowly increasing body count. As the film meanders towards its conclusion, it tumbles into the numerous pratfalls befitting of thrillers of this ilk, creating fight scenes that aren’t needed in a desperate attempt for excitement, and it, crucially, left the Satanic cult element out of it completely. You probably forgot there was a Satanic cult element until just then. I think the film forgot that too.
There’s a method to creating films on low budgets. The recent cult horror smash hit, Mandy, had a famously low budget of only $6 million, and yet Mandy is a visually stunning work. We Summon The Darkness, on the other hand, looks low budget from the opening few minutes. It felt like a film that could afford very few locations and re-used them throughout the film, setting most of it in a house. It was visually bland, constantly having the night-time blue hue on most scenes and working with minimal lighting changes. As I mentioned earlier, there is one scene that bucks the trend and uses more interesting diegetic lighting. Unsurprisingly, this is the same scene that brought out the most interest in me earlier. The lack of visual flair (and aural, for that matter, as the soundtrack is completely forgettable) contributed to the film’s general lack of engagement throughout, ultimately creating an underwhelming cinematic experience.
Satanic cults, my renowned love for Alexandra Daddario, and the presence of Johnny Knoxville should have created something passably entertaining, but Johnny Knoxville’s no-show in my review should be enough to tell you of the impact he had. We Summon The Darkness lacked believable performances, an interesting story, or anything resembling excitement for me, falling into too many clichés to engage. There was a point in the film where I thought it would turn a corner, but alas, we didn’t summon the darkness, we summoned mediocrity.
Directed by: Marc Meyers
Written by: Alan Trezza
Cast: Alexandra Daddario, Maddie Hasson, Amy Forsyth, Johnny Knoxville