Director: Marc Meyers
Stars: Alexandra Daddario, Amy Forsyth, Maddie Hasson
I have to confess; obnoxious as it may have seemed to some/most, I have a soft spot for illogical 3D cheese-fest Texas Chainsaw from the early ’10s. It’s one of my comfort blanket movies. Bright and dumb enough to sustain me when I want to switch off. Watching the news will keep me awake; watching trashy horror movies about bratty twenty-somethings getting their comeuppance will let me sleep soundly. I think there’s a meme with Homer Simpson about it somewhere.
Alexandra Daddario, star of the much-maligned Texas Chainsaw, here returns to the horror genre for another colourful ride through rural bloodshed. Indiana, 1988. Daddario plays Alexis, on the road to see a metal band with her besties Val (Maddie Hasson) and Beverly (Amy Forsyth). Along the way they fall in with a trio of boys led by Mark (Keean Johnson). Eager to keep the party going, Alexis invites the boys back to her dad’s house, but getting drunk and making out isn’t all these ‘sisters’ have in mind.
A lot of the set-up here is ‘bad road’ – inane and/or boring dialogue that trades character development for banalities, ’80s references and lingering shots of Hasson’s bottom. Metal fans may get something out of the guys and girls trading trivia, but honestly, it mostly feels like wasted time. Still, tension does build as we start asking which trio is more predatory…
The dangers of date-rape are here gender-flipped as the girls drug the guys and ready them for staged ritualistic slaughter. But hold up. We Summon The Darkness instead starts wading into some equally if not more interesting waters, with a plot that addresses the religious right’s knack for storytelling and spin, manipulating the public to their own nefarious ends. Horror cinema has a prolific history of addressing political ills, and the attempt to comment on the power of Fake News here is encouraging… but it flags too quickly.
On the one hand it’s always welcome to see the women in a horror film empowered (?) in this way, taking charge, being threatening, rejecting the Final Girl trope (see last year’s unfairly maligned Black Christmas for a superb example of this)… on the other, this set are frustratingly bad at it. And while Daddario at least seems to enjoy getting to do a bit of crazy-eye, WSTD devolves into bickering and ineptitude exceedingly quickly, in the process taking any sense of imminent danger, or threat with it. Any progressive activism is undercut. In short, you’ll need to look elsewhere for truly feminist examples in the horror camp.
Even as the bloodletting starts, there’s a frustrating sense of dawdling. The guys’ escape attempts seem half-hearted, the girls’ sense of urgency is non-existent. Director Marc Meyers resists the impulse to get ostentatious in his staging, but also seems disinterested in suspense, atmosphere or even scares. It is a shame to report that much of what follows feels as inane as the journey to get there.
Blasting out “Heaven Is A Place On Earth” feels like the last-ditch attempt to use nostalgia to prop-up a floundering story. A well-placed ’80s pop song has been proven to expertly enhance a mean little horror tale (see Johannes Roberts’ The Strangers: Prey at Night for multiple examples all in one place). Here there’s no impact. The moment doesn’t play. The obligatory Carpenter-esque score is at least consistent with the 1988 setting, but by now we’ve also seen this affection too many times before. It’s lost all uniqueness.
Meyers mounts a decent-looking production, as intimated. There’s reason to believe he could be capable of much better (I’ve not seen his prior credits). It’s the weak material which ultimately lets the side down in this instance. We Summon The Darkness doesn’t have enough good ideas to sustain itself. It starts a conversation it seems to immediately lose interest in. And losing interest is a constant threat here.
This straight-to-DVD title seems likely to end up as little more than a footnote for all concerned. For my Daddario-themed horror thrills, I’ll stick to the romping stupidity of Texas Chainsaw.