[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

Escape Room (2019)

Director: Adam Robitel

Cast: Taylor Russell, Logan Miller, Jay Ellis, Deborah Ann Woll, Tyler Labine, Nik Dodani

Screenplay: Bragi F. Schut, Maria Melnik

99 mins. Rated PG-13 for terror/perilous action, violence, some suggestive material and language.

 

An Escape Room that tries to actually kill you is quite the high concept for a horror movie. How is plays out onscreen is another thing altogether.

Zoey (Taylor Russell, Before I Fall, TV’s Lost in Space) needs to put herself out there more. She is closed off, nervous, and lacks confidence. So when her professor challenges her to do something outside her comfort zone over the school break and a mysterious invite shows up to her dorm for an escape room, she takes the opportunity, but she and the other members of the escape room quickly learn that this is not a normal game, and they are in true danger. The group must work together to pass all the tests of the escape room and hopefully escape…with their lives.

Escape Room was so much more fun than I expected it to be. I felt like the film would be missing a certain amount of style just from what I’ve seen in other films with a similar concept. That being said, each room has a style and theme to it and most of them are really fun to participate in. I was not in a crowded theater but I found myself joining in with the other people in the theater to guess how to solve each puzzle. It was a great experience.

The story’s biggest faults are in the structure. The first scene of the film, set in the escape room, uses misdirection quite poorly. Then, it flashes back to earlier events and the story goes fine from there for the most part. The finale, though, gets very clunky. Getting to see more about the makers of the escape room didn’t really work, and then the film goes on too long trying to build a mythology. The last scene just flat-out didn’t work.

The characters are fun to connect to, even though many of them are archetypes of characters we would see in a horror film. They are enjoyable to watch as people get picked off but they aren’t extremely well-put together for the film. Zoey is the girl that is super-shy. Ben (Logan Miller, Scout’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, Love, Simon) is the weird awkward guy. Jason (Jay Ellis, A Boy. A Girl. A Dream., TV’s Insecure) is the rich douchebag who is just out for himself. Amanda (Deborah Ann Woll, Silver Lake, TV’s True Blood) is the pretty and tough ex-military woman. Everyone has their archetype, the most interesting being Danny (Nik Dodani, Alex Strangelove, TV’s Atypical), a guy who has been in escape rooms before and is kind of the expert, but even he is the nerd of the group.

Escape Room is a flawed but extremely enjoyable time at the movies. I’m happy to hear that a sequel is on the way because I believe this has the makings of a franchise. They need to fix the mythology or throw it out altogether and just focus on the rooms and character development. This is a popcorn thrill ride at the core and so much fun.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Adam Robitel’s Insidious: The Last Key, click here.

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