Much like Chelsea Stardust’s Satanic Panic last year, Marc Meyer’s We Summon the Darkness handles the topic of 1980s satanic moral panic in the USA with its tongue firmly in its cheek. The air of lightness and fun that tries to expose the absurdity of the times lends itself well to a horror comedy set-up— an obvious choice when you have Jackass’ Johnny Knoxville in your cast.
Knoxville plays John Henry Butler, a well-known pastor on local TV and radio who acts as the wide-reaching voice of that specific, hysterical vein of Evangelical American Christianity in the mid-western community where the film is set. Lately John has been preaching about metal music and the threat of Satanists in the local community— after all, a satanic death cult is on the loose!
Metalheads Alexis (Alexandra Daddario), Val (Maddie Hasson) and Beverly (Amy Forsyth) are on a road trip to a gig as Pastor John’s warnings echo from a gas station TV. Its also heard in the van of wannabe musicians Mark (Keean Johnson), Kovacs (Logan Miller) and Ivan (Austin Swift) who dismiss the pastor’s words as nothing more than an attack on rock music. The three girls meet with the boys at the gig after a run-in out on the road and hangout, the guys later thrilled to be asked to an after party at Alexis’ dad’s house.
The group are fun to spend time with, the characters all have individual personalities and they riff off each other’s detailed knowledge of metal bands. Their friendship feels natural and does not stoop down to genre tropes; you would be perfectly content seeing these people in any 1980s-set film, not just within the horror genre. Maddie Hasson stands out as the effortlessly cool and beautiful Val, but Alexis’ dominating personality is the leader of the group while newcomer Beverly fades into the background. Logan Miller has been making quite the impression as a horror regular and his specific typecasting as ‘slightly annoying yet entertaining asshole’ is very much welcomed here.
As the guys and gals get further into their night they indulge in a game of ‘Never Have I Ever’—the boys gleefully hoping that this might lead to some hot metal-chick hook-ups later on— but their fun is cut short in an unexpected turn of events.
Now, its difficult to talk about We Summon the Darkness’ ingenious twist without entirely spoiling why the films worth watching in the first place. Without this—albeit a little too early on— surprise the film would have plodded along quite unremarkably with no tonal shift and nothing too original to offer up. Meyer’s exposes the huge hypocrisy in blind worship and Evangelical preaching but its never itself too preachy in its message. The film is flippant in its values and keeps its runtime strictly popcorn-munching friendly with plenty of fun slasher moments. It is never too heavy on the gore which smartly stops it throttling light-speed into a comedy where every beat can be poked fun at. If anything, it would have been nice to see Johnny Knoxville used more for his comedic chops, as a top billed star selling the film, he felt underutilised. The character of Pastor John was crying out for something over-the-top and borderline campy.
We Summon the Darkness is hardly taking down ‘elevated horror’ one leather studded jacket at a time but it is an undeniably entertaining way to spend ninety minutes. Its neither wildly offensive to watch or dazzlingly original but the unexpected inclusion of a twist in the story makes hanging out with this bunch of relatable metal-heads all the more exciting.
We Summon the Darkness is out on VOD now and DVD on May 11th
By Chloe Leeson
Chloë (she/her) is the founder of SQ. She works as a teacher in the GLAM sector and freelances as a costume designer and maker living in the North East of England. She thrives watching 90s Harmony Korine Letterman interviews and bad horror movies. Her favourite films are Into The Wild, Lords of Dogtown, Green Room and Pan’s Labyrinth. Find her on Letterboxd here.