{Movie Review} We Summon the Darkness: Blood, Metal, and Mayhem

We Summon the Darkness is the perfect horror movie to watch if you’re looking for 90 minutes of gore, absurdity, and laughs. Set in the 1980s in America’s heartland, the film skewers the Satanic Panic hysteria of that decade. The cast of female misfits is incredibly likable, while maintaining distinct personalities. Overall, director Marc Meyers’ film is a much-needed reprieve during these dark times.

The film opens on the road, as Alexis (Alexandra Daddario), the ringleader of the group, Val (Maddie Hasson), and Bev (Amy Forsyth), make their way across long stretches of highway to attend a heavy metal show. During the trip, news reports come over the radio about brutal murders that are suspected to be the work of a Satanic cult. The news is amplified again via the TV playing in a convenient store where the ladies stop to fuel up on snacks. The worker, who sports a hat that says older than dirt, can hardly turn away from the gruesome headlines long enough to ring up the boxes of Twinkies.

Though fictitious, these reports aren’t too different from the Satanic Panic hysteria that gripped so much of the nation, including the blame that was placed upon heavy metal music. News of the killings are juxtaposed with tidbits of speeches by fundamentalist preacher John Henry Butler, played with gusto by Johnny Knoxville. Knoxville’s character may be satire, but his rhetoric isn’t too different from what televangelists like Billy Graham and Pat Robertson spread to legions of devoted followers at the time.

While the girls may dress similarly, namely in a lot of black with back patches of bands stitched into their coats, writer Alan Trezza ensured from the get-go that their personalities and characteristics are distinct. Bev, who we later learn is a run-away, is more quiet and subdued and seems to have the most musical knowledge of the group. Alexis is the assertive leader, while Val swears, smokes, drinks, laughs, and stops to pee… a lot.

The rest of the cast is balanced out by three aspiring musicians that the women meet at the concert. Like their female counterparts, the men have their own unique personalities. Drummer Mark (Keean Johnson) is the sensitive, brooding type who plans to flee to LA to jump-start his music career. It’s no surprise that he clicks with Bev, since their personalities mesh, and both are outcasts within their own group. Bev isn’t as wild as her counterparts, and Mark’s dreams of musical stardom clash with his former band members.

Photo Courtesy of Saban Films

Kovacs (Logan Miller) is a cocksure front man, while Ivan (Austin Swift) generally seems like a nice fellow. For metal fans, the fandom talk, which involves everything from Dave Mustaine’s short stint in Metallica before he was fired, to reminiscing over first concerts, is a real treat.

After the concert, once the setting moves to Alexis’ swanky country home, the narrative shifts. Near the end of the film, Bev tells the same convenient store worker from the beginning of the film not to believe everything he sees and hears. This also applies to a viewer’s narrative expectations.

It turns out that the women are actually fundamentalist Christians, using mass hysteria and the pushback against heavy metal culture to mask their sadistic killings. Among the three, there’s a very close blood relation to Pastor Butler. Sometimes, such a shift in plot can throw a viewer out of the film, but the second half is a gory romp that subverts expectations.

Furthermore, the film’s second half serves as a response to 1980s horror. Instead of some hulking slasher and a final girl, we have three lady killers who wield knives and lure the three men into the home. They tie them up and eventually find clever ways to smoke them out of a storage closet that becomes their only shelter. To add, the film lampoons so many aspects of the Satanic Panic hysteria and heavy metal culture at the same time. Alexis, Val, and Pastor Butler are so over the top in their rhetoric and actions that it’s impossible not to laugh at how illogical they sound and act.

Likewise, the three men, who wear interchangeable uniforms featuring pentagrams and back patches, are absurd in their own way. At one point, Alexis uses the edge of a knife to point to Mark’s pentagram necklace. She asks why he wears it. He answers defiance, but when she asks against what, he can’t answer. It’s simply part of his uniform and as hollow as Pastor Butler’s beliefs. The duality between belief systems, taken to the extreme, is a brilliant aspect of the film.

For gore hounds, there will be much to like in We Summon the Darkness. There’s plenty of blood, metal, and mayhem. The practical effects serve the film well and make the second half  a wild ride.

Overall, We Summon the Darkness is a fun film that’s smart in its satire. It has strong performances all around and shows, in retrospect, just how preposterous the Satanic Panic period was. It’s a film that subverts expectations but is all the better for it. Find the time to crack open a PBR, give it a stream, and have a laugh.

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