The Summoned Conjures Sinful Fun Amidst Familiarity
The low-budget, independent horror movie market is saturated. How someone chooses what to watch while perusing the horror film sections of Netflix, Amazon Prime, Tubi, or Shudder is anyone’s guess. Judging by the trailers stitched together to market them, a few too many appear to be of questionable pedigree. Be that as it may, the movie industry is filled with stories of directors, writers, and actors earning their spurs on low-budget tales of shrieks and gore. Sometimes there is a diamond in the rough. Sometimes, a film comes along that makes one wonder “Hmm. There may be something there.” Mark Meir’s The Summoned stands as one such example.
Occurring in a non-descript, American rural locale, The Summoned sees mechanic Elijah Moulton (J. Quinton Johnson) and his music star girlfriend Lyn (Emma Fitzpatrick) head to therapy. Not just any therapy. This is at an ornately built estate that looks like a 5-star log cabin. Their host Is Dr. Justus Frost (Frederick Stuart), a psychologist, we think, who summons his patients to a getaway where they realize their sins and overcome them. As happenstance demands, Lyn’s former squeeze, self-help author Joe (Salvador Chacon), is also spending a few days there. So is the latter’s social media influencer ex-wife Tara (Angela Gulner). Elijah doesn’t trust the somewhat pompous and aloof Dr. Frost, although he never could have imagined the sort of therapy the good doctor has in store.
Old Parts, Fun Tricks
A lonely estate in the woods. Limited filming inside the estate. Nothing but dead grass, dirt, and trees everywhere around. A title and set-up that conjure thoughts of malefic spiritual overtones and that something evil awaits in the woods, very much like The Blair Witch Project. A “doctor” with unorthodox practicing methods. Unknown actors. Have we not seen this movie a thousand times?
Yes, we have. At this stage in movie history, until someone comes along and presents the world with something completely original that no one else would have ever devised, it’s a matter of what the filmmakers do with the familiar parts rather than the originality of the parts themselves. In that regard, Mark Meir has quite honestly concocted a rather amusing little lark in the woods. When it comes to familiar set-ups such as this one, casting is of utmost importance. J. Quinton Johnson and Emma Fitzpatrick are both believable in their roles as lovers who need an extra push to take their romance to the next level. Both are young but reasonably mature, charismatic, and have chemistry.
Johnson in particular plays the part with touching earnestness. This is perfect given that his character’s flaw is having a hero complex. He feels compelled to take the hit, to make the sacrifice, to let those around him shine instead of himself. He’s too good, which of course ends up being what the film’s antagonistic forces prey on. He must become bad to save himself, from a certain point of view. All in all it’s an engaging turn and rewards what originally feels painfully predictable. Frederick Stuart as Dr. Frost is mostly a cartoon, baddie version of Sigmund Freud, but a commitment to a role is to be applauded. To that effect, Stuart is certainly entertaining.
It is argued that the genre is at its best when it has something on its mind. In other words, when it says something about humanity. The Summoned pinpoints a noteworthy angle and extracts some fun out of it. Everyone is handicapped by some vice or another. As the old expression goes, nobody’s perfect. That the characters are attending therapy sessions is one thing. That Dr. Frost’s primary method consists of having his patients confess their greatest character flaws, in other words, their sins, is a deft touch.
Saying more would divulge too many later plot points. Suffice that the filmmakers appear to have something on their minds regarding where our personal demons can take us. The Faustian consequences of acting out our sins inevitably come back to haunt us. Each patient is plagued by a flaw and said character defects are the reasons why they have been summoned and why Dr. Frost is so keen to treat them. Little puzzle pieces are dropped, unbeknownst to the viewer. Virtually all of them come back to make the picture whole by the end.
The Devil’s Music
A special mention to the score’s composer, Brian Satterwhite. Few ingredients carry a horror movie with as much aplomb as good music. In fact, that need not apply exclusively to this specific genre. Any film, be it an indie project or a Hollywood blockbuster, benefits from a well-woven score. The issue these days is that so much film music sounds the same. Filmmakers love their atmospheric music. Too many forget that “atmospheric” and “melodic” can go hand in hand. They have for decades upon decades.
Satterwhite provides the requisite moroseness for a film about malevolent forces in the woods whilst peppering the score with classical touches. Horns are judiciously played, and the strings and winds lend such effect that scenes and entire sequences have musical identities. There are identifiable pieces in the score, something that can be said all too rarely about today’s film music.
The Summoned doesn’t do much to blow horror hounds away. It’s not terribly frightening, nor does it strive for originality. It makes up for it with character and a director with a clear enough vision of what they wanted to accomplish. Truth be told, it harkens back more to vintage Twilight Zone than it does Halloween or Evil Dead. It’s creepy, funny, and weird.