"This is supposed to scare other people, not us." — Alexis (Alexandra Daddario)
In these days of sequestration, the only new cinematic products available to while away the hours are to be found via streaming services or video-on-demand, and this week's most prominent offering is the offbeat independent horror movie We Summon the Darkness.
Director Marc Meyers opens with three 20-something young women — Alexis (Alexandra Daddario), Val (Maddie Hasson) and Bev (Amy Forsyth) — on a drive along America's highways, during which we get to know them as best we can, reminding me of the brother-sister road trip in Jeepers Creepers, the part that made me like that 2001 film.
As with that movie, the girls have a run-in with the unseen driver(s) of a dark van seemingly en route to the same heavy metal concert. There, the girls encounter three similarly aged young men — Mark (Keann Johnson), Kovacs (Logan Miller) and Ivan (Austin Swift) — beginning a playful flirtation with them, which leads to an ill-advised post-concert gathering back at Alexis's absent dad's house.
Why ill-advised? Because the region is under a public warning about a string of grisly murders ostensibly committed by crazed Satan worshipers. Sounds like a good time to stay sheltered in place to me, but it's a fair bet that members of this group are going to be besieged at the house by lunatic satanic killers unless, of course, Alexis and her pals have unwittingly brought those very killers home with them.
Meyers moves his narrative swiftly, yet allows time for character development — at least a little beyond what we've come to expect in these things — especially with the three young men. As for the young ladies, Forsyth bears her burden well, as does Hasson, although the latter's character is a bit more empty-headedly stereotypical, while at the same time energetic enough to remind me of Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn.
Sadly, Daddario's performance doesn't quite make it for me, even though it may have been her star power which helped get financing for the film. I liked her fine in the Percy Jackson franchise and the cartoony but fun disaster flick San Andreas, but here she's a fraction too manic, which doesn't contrast well with the already frenzied Hasson. I wish Myers had told her to dial it down a little and not Shatner her role. Still, there's Tanner Beard, doing fine in a brief turn as an unsuspecting deputy sheriff who unwittingly walks into the carnage, and Jackass producer/star Johnny Knoxville, keeping it on an even keel as Alexis' stern father, a hellfire-and-brimstone TV preacher man who's warned America for years of the Satanist killers among us.
If you're a fan of these horror romps — and if there's not enough real horror for you outside your front door right now — We Summon the Darkness is certainly better than many, especially as director Myers and scribe Alan Trezza offer a couple of ironic twists that upend everything you've come to expect from the genre.
My biggest criticism may be that those twists actually come a little too early in the film, but Myers keeps things moving so fast that you don't really have time to think about it until after the credits.