[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

Alita: Battle Angel (2019)

Director: Robert Rodriguez

Cast: Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali, Ed Skrein, Jackie Earle Haley, Keean Johnson

Screenplay: James Cameron, Laeta Kalogridis

122 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some language.

 

It would be incredibly hard to market a film like Alita: Battle Angel. Like Speed Racer a decade ago, the film is like a living anime, not something easily sellable in two minutes. There was immediate discussion about the main character’s appearance, as she had two large, cartoonish eyes. Many wondered if it was possible to view her as a relatable character when she looked so toony. I was concerned about that as well. Thank goodness that is not the case.

In Iron City, scientist Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained, Downsizing) finds a destroyed cyborg with a working brain. He fixes it up, brings it back to life without any memory of her past, and gives her a name. Now, this cyborg, Alita (Rosa Salazar, Bird Box, Maze Runner: The Death Cure), is actively trying to learn more about her world, and she befriends Hugo (Keean Johnson, Heritage Falls, TV’s Spooksville), a young man who dreams of rising out of Iron City into the floating sky city above them, Zalem. In her travels, Alita finds that her past is one of great importance, and she embarks on a journey of self-discovery, all the while being hunted by other nefarious cyborgs.

For starters, let’s talk about Alita. Rosa Salazar owns this role and this film. For a cyborg, her performance is incredibly human. She is a playful child in some ways as she rediscovers the world, and the emotions that exist within it. As far as the CG facial work, it’s hardly noticeable. It lends to a unique character, and it works quite well. After the first few moments, I found myself not even realizing that I was seeing CG and I just became lost in the character.

The supporting cast is mostly filled with talented work, but some performers, like Mahershala Ali (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, TV’s True Detective) as Vector, the criminal entrepreneur, and Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind, Only the Brave) as Dr. Chiren, Ido’s ex-wife, are given little to nothing to really do in the movie. Ali and Connelly do fine work with what their given, but it just isn’t enough to create the memorable characters both are capable of, and especially considering Ali’s most recent success with Moonlight and Green Book, it feels wasted.

Then there’s Hugo. I didn’t like Hugo as a character. I didn’t like the way he was written and I didn’t like the way he was portrayed. I didn’t like his lack of chemistry with Alita. It’s frustrating when he’s on film because I get what is being attempted, but it just never really hits.

Where director Robert Rodriguez (El Mariachi, Machete Kills) truly wins here is his knack for understanding and showcasing spectacle, something Alita: Battle Angel explodes with. Both Rodriguez and screenwriter James Cameron understand the spectacle of a true cinematic experience, and that’s what is accomplished with Alita. I just had so much fun in this true theater-going adventure, and it looks better than just about anything out there right now. It’s the kind of thing I’m looking forward to in the Avatar sequels, the sense of wild and incredible visual candy, and that’s what I got here.

Alita: Battle Angel stumbles with a few characters, but it’s also unlike anything I’ve seen on screen before. Director Robert Rodriguez swings for the fences, and it mostly works really well. This is the kind of film that begs for a sequel to further explore the world, the mythology, and the characters, and it may not get that, which is a true shame because Alita: Battle Angel did a lot of heavy lifting here, and it left me wanting more in the best possible way. Seek this one out on the biggest screen you can.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Robert Rodriguez’s The Faculty, click here.

For my review of Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller, and Quentin Tarantino’s Sin City, click here.

For my review of Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, click here.

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