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Summoning Sylvia (2023) Review

What do you get when you mix four flamboyantly gay friends, the not so gay some to be brother-in-law of one of them and a house with a sinister history? You get Summoning Sylvia, a low-budget horror comedy that arrives in theatres today.

Larry (Travis Coles, Aftermath, The 27 Club) is getting married to Jamie (Michael Urie, Abducted, Ugly Betty). But before that can happen his friends Nico (Frankie Grande, Spree, Danger Force), Kevin (Noah J. Ricketts, The Fiji Incentive, Christmas Déjà Vu), and Reggie (Troy Iwata, What Lies Below, Burning Man: The Musical) kidnap him for a surprise bachelor weekend. Said weekend occurring in a beautiful, old, and of course haunted, house.

Reggie has made a list of things to do, (this must be the gay agenda I’m always hearing about), but Kevin has a surprise he’s brought his gear and wants to have a seance and conjure up Sylvia (Veanne Cox, Erin Brockovich, Two Weeks Notice) who died in the house after murdering her son. 

That, however, is not the only surprise. Larry was supposed to be spending the weekend meeting his future brother-in-law, the decidedly hetero Harrison (Nicholas Logan, The Best of Enemies, I Care a Lot). Trying to save the situation, he invites Harrison to join them without telling the others.

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Summoning Sylvia is part camp comedy full of music, dance, and eyeliner, part fish-out-of-water comedy once the buzz cut, camo-wearing Harrison arrives, and part haunted house comedy when the seance actually succeeds and Sylvia, still homicidal after all these years, manifests herself. While there are some actual scares, such as Sylvia’s first appearance and some of the flashbacks to her story, it really isn’t much of a horror movie, however.

The writing/directing/acting team of Wesley Taylor and Alex Wyse, who previously collaborated on the series Indoor Boys, have crafted a fast-paced comedy with a theme that will appeal to one audience while having quite the opposite effect on another segment of the population. It’s unapologetically flamboyant and over the top. It also features at least one scene that may get it banned, or at least X-rated, in Florida and Tennessee.

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The film has the good luck to be getting released now when AI, algorithms, chatbots and disinformation are in the news as one of its best subplots involves one of the guys trying to get over the fact their online interest was actually an AI bot programmed to disenfranchise LGBTQIA voters.

Most of Summoning Sylvia’s jokes are less topical and vary between farcical with sacred characters running around screaming or arguing over whose fault the situation is to more seriously themed looks at the obviously troubled Harrison’s reaction to Larry and his friends, especially Nico. That in turn plays into the plotline involving the returned Sylvia and ups the level of craziness.

There is a twist at the end that probably won’t surprise anyone and would probably have worked better if it had been revealed earlier. Then it could have been used as something to play off of with the viewers knowing the truth but not the characters. Instead, it just falls flat with a “Saw that coming” reaction. Thankfully, it’s one of the few things Summoning Sylvia gets wrong.

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Taylor and Wyse manage to walk the fine line between actual camp and the kind of forced outrageousness that too many films end up settling for. They also manage to deal with potentially offensive subjects like violent homophobia and generate laughs rather than outrage. And despite my dislike of song and dance routines in films, I didn’t mind Summoning Sylvia’s drag musical number.

As I said, Summoning Sylvia won’t appeal to everyone, either for its subject matter or frequently silly tone. But if this is the kind of film you go for, you should have, as the Flintstones used to say, a gay old time.

Summoning Sylvia will open for weeklong runs in markets nationwide on March 31st. It will be available on VOD and Digital Platforms on April 7th via The Horror Collective. You can check their website for more information, including a list of cities and theatres where it will be playing. And if you’re not ready to give up the ghost on your film night, FilmTagger can suggest some titles to keep you watching.

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