[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

[31 Days of Horror Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan] Day 7 – Daniel Isn’t Real (2019)

Director: Adam Egypt Mortimer
Cast: Miles Robbins, Patrick Schwarzenegger, Sasha Lane, Mary Stuart Masterson, Hannah Marks, Chukwudi Iwuji, Peter McRobbie
Screenplay: Adam Egypt Mortimer, Brian DeLeeuw
100 mins. Not Rated.

A colleague of mine, Nick Palodichuk from the St. Paul Filmcast, has been incessantly pushing me to watch Daniel Isn’t Real for months now, curious to see my reaction to the festival favorite that failed to make an impression on streaming services in 2019. I wasn’t exactly skirting the need to watch it, but I’ll be honest, it’s a terrible title for a movie, and I just didn’t feel the want to see it. Well, I finally took the time, and now here we are. So what did I think?

While struggling through mental health issues in his family, college freshman Luke (Miles Robbins, Blockers, Halloween) brings his old imaginary friend, Daniel (Patrick Schwarzenegger, Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, The Benchwarmers), back to life. At first, Daniel gives Luke all the confidence he could ever want, but Luke soon discovers how difficult it is to Daniel away again, as Daniel decides he wants to stay free this time.

It seems that the divide among viewers with Daniel Isn’t Real is whether the “out there” stuff that is revealed as the film goes on work for some and fail for others. I’ll be the guy that says that the crazier this story got, the stronger the experience ended up being. I love when films take the initiative to try something new, and Daniel Isn’t Real plays with a mythology that is pretty engaging, albeit one that breaks its own rules occasionally.

The film has themes of Mental Illness that are fairly rote, but it shines with the way it portrays the primordial drive of toxic masculinity as a trait within our society that keeps taking over our bodies and pushes up to extremes in order to fit in. This is an interesting new idea and the way director/co-writer Adam Egypt Mortimer (Archenemy, Holidays) explores this theme with Daniel Isn’t Real was particularly effective.

Mortimer’s screenplay with Brian DeLeeuw (who wrote the original story In This Way I Was Saved) also effectively balances a questioning of reality layer that accomplishes this feat quite nicely, something most other films try but few are able to achieve. There were several times throughout when I questioned what was really happening, and oftentimes, where certain lesser scenes in the movie started to lose my interest, Mortimer would drop another clue that made me revisit my theories.

Unfortunately, the film also has some drawbacks. I was not terribly convinced by either Miles Robbins or Patrick Schwarzenegger in their respective roles. There are some strong performances in the film, particularly from Sasha Lane (American Honey, Hellboy) and Hannah Marks (After Everything, Accepted) as Cassie and Sophie, two potential romantic interests for Luke.

I also found a number of logic gaps in the film. I questioned the lossless motive of Daniel in the film. We find out just enough about Daniel to make us question why he’s doing anything he’s doing. What’s his motive in the story? Sex? Violence? What drives him in the narrative?

I also questioned Luke’s struggle to get rid of Daniel. Early on, we see a younger Luke mentally transport Daniel into a toy dollhouse and imprison him there for years. Yet, this idea never occurs to Luke throughout the film. We’re also told that the two cannot be separated, and Luke just believes this, even though we’ve seen evidence to the contrary.

The ending of the film is where these gaps in logic are most apparent, and it’s where the quality takes a bit of a nosedive in order to leave us questioning events and characters, and it just didn’t work, and instead I found Daniel Isn’t Real ending on a disappointing note.

Daniel Isn’t Real showcases a major talent in Adam Egypt Mortimer, and I’m excited to see more from this new filmmaker. The film is heavily flawed, but what works in the movie works very well, and his imagination is on display, even if it extends beyond his budget. It won’t work for everyone, but it’s worth checking out all the same.

3/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

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