[31 Days of Horror Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan] Day 18 – We Summon the Darkness (2019)

Director: Marc Meyers
Cast: Alexandra Daddario, Keean Johnson, Maddie Hasson, Logan Miller, Amy Forsyth, Austin Swift, Johnny Knoxville
Screenplay: Alan Trezza
91 mins. Rated R for bloody violence, pervasive language, some drug use and sexual references.

Satanic Panic in horror has been a slow-moving trend in horror for a few years now. Not satanic panic in the traditional sense, but the type of horror that commits to a satirical view of the insanity faced by the public in the 80s. We Summon the Darkness is one of those films, and it looked like a lot of fun. Yeah, it sure LOOKED that way.

Alexis (Alexandra Daddario, Baywatch, TV’s The White Lotus) and her two friends are road-tripping to see a favorite heavy metal band, fully aware that there’s been a string of satanic killings going around the area recently, and bodies are piling up. Once they arrive, they make friends with another group of three, led by Ivan (Austin Swift, Cover Versions, Breaking the Whales), and Alexis invites them to hang out at her dad’s house. What starts as a fun night evolves quickly into a dangerous and unpredictable night that will test each of their survival skills.

We Summon the Darkness is a movie of wants and missed opportunities. It wants so desperately to enter into that canon of stylistic, sassy, and conceptual single-location horror movies like Ready or Not and You’re Next. It aims for this realm and completely misses it. There are a number of reasons why this happens, but let’s start with what works.

Alexandra Daddario is a solid and effective lead in the film. This is an actress that has some serious talent, but she’s consistently overlooked because people are so focused on her looks, but I’ve continued to see an steady climb in her acting abilities, and she’s fun and engaging as Alexis. While she may not be written in the best way, Daddario puts her all into it.

Most of the other performances work well enough for what the film is, but I’d like to focus on Logan Miller (Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, Escape Room: Tournament of Champions) as Kovacks, a member of the group of guys that Alexis meets at the concert. Miller is seemingly placed in unlikable roles throughout his young career, and he’s really good at them, but he works pretty well in most of his performances. I remember being swayed by him in Escape Room, and he adds layers to a character that maybe should be more forgettable.

The reveals that come up in this movie are so overwrought and easily guessable that it takes a lot of the excitement out of the movie. Five minutes in and you could guess just about every major plot point. I did, and I was pretty much right about all of it. That’s the problem that plagues We Summon the Darkness: the predictability kills it. That’s a tough thing to work around, and it looks like director Marc Meyers (My Friend Dahmer, All My Life) and screenwriter Alan Trezza (Burying the Ex) were unable to overcome that issue. With that issue comes the cardinal sin of horror: boredom. This movie just kind of bored me, and while it isn’t an experience-killing boredom, I don’t ever see myself watching this movie again.

There are also a few production goofs that, on their own, wouldn’t have mattered, but with the amount of issues in the film, they really took me out. Issues like a movie set in 1988 using newer paper money designs or the Bluetooth light in the girls’ car. These seem like small issues but each time they came up, I was pushed back out of the limited focus that the movie had on me. Everyone has an amount of investment they can afford to lose before they lose focus on the movie, and this one pummeled me just enough to lose me often.

We Summon the Darkness could work for some people, but I’m convinced that many of them have not seen better movies that do what this film can do but better. It wants to be subversive, and it’s mildly entertaining purely for its performances, but it could’ve been so much more. It should’ve been so much more.

2.5/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

Green Room (2015)

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Director: Jeremy Saulnier

Cast: Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole, Callum Turner, Patrick Stewart

Screenplay: Jeremy Saulnier

94 mins. Rated R for strong brutal graphic violence, gory images, language and some drug content.

 

I’m hardly the first person to see Green Room. It premiered last year at Cannes to solid reviews. But, I was lucky enough to be a part of an advance screening last night, and let me tell you, it was worth it.

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Green Room is the story of a band called “The Ain’t Rights” as they, desperate for income, pick up a quick gig near Portland, which they quickly discover is a skinhead Neo-Nazi bar. When Pat (Anton Yelchin, Star Trek, Burying the Ex) goes back to the green room to collect a cell phone, he unknowingly stumbles upon a horrific scene, and now, he and his bandmates are in for the fight of their life, holed up in the green room as the skinheads, led by Darcy Banker (Patrick Stewart, TV’s American Dad, Ted 2) attempt to tear them apart in order to cover their tracks.

Green Room is absolutely intense during the entirety of its 94-minute runtime. I found my hands shaking and sweating as I reeled in my seat. Anton Yelchin is a great lead as the de facto brave leader of the band. His guttural performance left me with chilled to the bone. On the other side, Patrick Stewart plays a monster in a man’s body as the ruthless villain Darcy. He gives such a creepy and nuanced performance without falling into cliché.

Imogen Poots (Need for Speed, Knight of Cups), who also appeared with Yelchin in the Fright Night remake a few years back, plays Amber, another witness to the murder in the green room, and she finds herself joined up with The Ain’t Rights for survival. Poots gives great work as Amber and provides an uneasiness to her unhinged character.

I saw director Jeremy Saulnier’s early film Murder Party, and while it has been some time, I recall enjoying that one quite a lot, though in tone the two films find themselves somewhat distanced. Saulnier’s screenplay gives out some awkward chuckles that relieved me in between the moments of sheer animosity. Even with the comedic elements, the shock and horror felt unrelenting. The faults with the film line up with a simple setup made somewhat more confusing at the beginning. It took me a bit longer than it should have to put the pieces of this film in place, but it didn’t detract from my viewing.

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I’m happy to say that Green Room is one of the best horror films I’ve seen in a theater in some time. I really enjoyed myself and cannot wait to see what this filmmaker has next. His use of top notch performances with a terrifying environment in a film I’m not sure I can even compare to another. It was a great time at the movies and an exhilarating experience overall.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

31 Days of Horror: Day 16 – Odd Thomas (2013)

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Director: Stephen Sommers

Cast: Anton Yelchin, Willem Dafoe, Addison Timlin, Nico Tortorella

Screenplay: Stephen Sommers

97 mins. Rated PG-13.

 

From the moment I heard about the character of Odd Thomas, created by Dean Koontz for a series of novels, I knew that he would eventually get a film series. I was probably a little incorrect. I doubt he will get a “series” after this meager film.

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Writer/director Stephen Sommers (The Mummy) has been slowly killing his career for years now, but I’m starting to think that Odd Thomas might have been the last nail in the coffin. Odd Thomas is all about, you guessed it, Odd Thomas. Have you heard that name too many times? Good, I prepared you for the film, which entails our hero (Anton Yelchin, Star Trek, Burying the Ex) who, along with Police Chief Wyatt Porter (Willem Dafoe, Spider-Man, John Wick) and girlfriend Stormy Llewelyn (Addison Timlin, Derailed, The Town That Dreaded Sundown), must track down the mystery concerning a man with dark secrets to apocalyptic things. Honestly, I’m trying to make it sound good, but I stopped caring long before the plot began lugging forward.

This movie was just kind of boring. The plot really went nowhere, and I applaud the attempt at something original, but it is a bore. Odd Thomas is the kind of film that looks like it was a pilot to a television series that might have aired over a decade ago. It is cheap looking, and it is slow moving, and it has a group of talent that is wasted on weak script and a knock-off narrative.

I liked that Stephen Sommers was trying to push the story forwards, and he gives it a look with style similar to comic books, but I just didn’t give a shit about these characters after a while.

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And the ending, my God! How could a film fall back so quickly towards a cheap and uninspired ending like Odd Thomas did. I feel sad that they likely won’t be continuing this story, I hear great things about the book series, but sadly, we are in a world of supernatural serials and one of them just had to fall by the wayside. I hope this doesn’t ruin Yelchin’s career, I mean, he has Chekov to fall back on, but I can’t say the same for Sommers.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

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