The Summoned


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Summoned
"The subtext here is much darker than the story itself."

American folklore (and folk music) is full of stories about men who wagered with the Devil. Some of them got away with it. Of course, we never find out whether or not the Devil came back later for revenge. The trope is actually older than Christianity, and has its roots in the idea that whilst anybody might enjoy success, only a special kind of person avoids paying a price for it.

Elijah (J Quinton Johnson) is not, in his own terms, successful. According to his girlfriend Lyn (Emma Fitzpatrick), he’s a capable songwriter, and he demonstrates that he can also sing, but he’s modest about it and enjoys his job as a mechanic. He seems to find comfort in the idea of being ordinary, but at the Staufen House, he’s the odd one out. That’s because this exclusive therapy resort – which Lyn has brought him to as her plus one – is normally used only by the rich and famous.

Lyn is a singer-songwriter herself, with a rapidly growing fan base and increasingly lucrative career. At the house, they meet Joe (Salvador Chacon), a successful entrepreneur who, in due course, will offer Elijah a deal which sounds as if it might be too good to be true. Then there’s actress Tara (Angela Gulner), who turns out to be one of Joe’s ex-wives, insists that he will try to seduce Lyn, and starts hitting on Elijah herself. They’re all there to see mysterious therapy guru Dr. Frost (Frederick Stuart), whose bizarre methods fit the Californian hippy paradigm well enough – but is he really up to something else?

Director Mark Meir keeps it simple to begin with. The performances are straightforward and the characters dance around each other in a way which suggests big conflicts to come, but little visual flourishes like a change in the frame rate suggest something more unsettling. Elijah is a sweet natured guy who hopes to persuade Lyn to marry him, but his vulnerability amongst these wealthy, influential people – bearing in mind that he’s also the only black person there – becomes increasingly apparent. Once Meir decides to let rip, the film descends into a gleefully brutal pursuit and a series of revelations which take it in a different direction.

Although the other performances are a bit flat, Johnson makes for a personable lead and succeeds in presenting Elijah’s feelings as sympathetic and human rather than problematic. His grounded approach also keeps us focused as the film shifts gears and lurches into supernatural territory. It all gets a little too drawn out towards the end, but this makes room for questions to arise around the formula we expect for films of this ilk and what that means in human terms. In particular, it attacks the idea of heroic sacrifice, tacitly observing that it’s always certain groups of people who are expected to suffer whilst other groups get to reap the rewards. The subtext here is much darker than the story itself.

An enjoyable little film with something meaningful to say, The Summoned appreciates the value of trickery and has a devilish sense of humour.

Reviewed on: 06 Jul 2022
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The Summoned packshot
A young man visits a remote house with his girlfriend to receive creative therapy, but gets more than he bargained for.

Director: Mark Meir

Writer: Yuri Baranovsky

Starring: J Quinton Johnson, Emma Fitzpatrick, Angela Gulner, Salvador Chacon, Frederick Stuart, Mark Meir

Year: 2022

Country: US


Frightfest 2022

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