Lyn (Emma Fitzpatrick, Unhuman, Sleepwalker) and a guest have been summoned to Staufen House by the estimable Dr. Justus Frost (Frederick Stuart, Adrenaline, Empty Space). I’m not sure if that sounds more ominous or pretentious, but either way Lyn and her guest, boyfriend Elijah (J. Quinton Johnson, We Can Be Heroes, Last Flag Flying) are on their way to the doctor’s retreat.
Joining them for the weekend are Tara (Angela Gulner, Take Back the Night, Dead in the Water), a famous and full of herself media personality, and Joe (Salvador Chacon, Mayans M.C., Bad Labor) an entrepreneur specializing in self-help programs. They have a messy divorce in common, his fourth no less.
Writer Yuri Baranovsky (The Temp Life, Leap Year) and director Mark Meir lay on the tropes right from The Summoned’s opening scenes. A cryptic prologue, a creepy encounter on the drive to the retreat, undercurrents of trouble between Lyn and Elijah, etc. And, as you might expect, he also turns out to be the only one of the foursome who isn’t famous, Lyn is a multiplatinum musician, he runs an auto repair shop.
It probably won’t take too long for any viewer who has seen more than a handful of horror films to get an idea of what lies at the center of The Summoned’s plot, especially once Dr. Frost starts talking about “the false idea of sin” and Elijah, surely his Old Testament name isn’t a coincidence, starts having nightmares.
But if its ingredients are familiar, what The Summoned does with them isn’t always what the viewer would expect. While at times it made me flash all the way back to The Legacy, the film has its own identity and goes in a different direction from what most viewers will expect. Especially once the film reaches the final act.
Up until then, The Summoned is something of a slow burn and depends on the cast to keep the viewer’s attention through the wordier moments. Thankfully they’re up to the task, especially Fitzpatrick and Johnson who has good chemistry which really shows during a duet they perform around the fire. They really make their issues feel believable, and those issues, in turn, fit nicely into the plot. Stuart is a bit hammy as Dr. Frost but that does fit the character and the lines he gets to deliver.
The last act does pick up the pace both in terms of plot twists and action but The Summoned still keeps most of its violence off-screen. Whether that was a deliberate choice or because they didn’t have the budget for effects I don’t know but it is a disappointment. Especially as there are some characters you will want to see get what’s coming to them.
As you may have seen for yourself, the presence of Elijah on the poster has drawn more than one comparison to Get Out. While there are a few similarities, including an interracial relationship, the films differ in a very important way. In Peele’s film, Chris is targeted because of his race. In The Summoned, Elijah’s involvement stems from who his ancestor was, the plot would work the same no matter what colour his skin was.
The Summoned may not be a huge gamechanger of a film, but it is well made and different enough to stand out and be a nice change from the business as usual. It’s a good choice for a weekend afternoon watch.
XYZ Films picked up the rights to The Summoned after its debut at The Overlook Film Festival and have just made it available on VOD and Digital platforms. and if you want to summon up some similar viewing, FilmTagger has some suggestions.