Love letters to ’80s horror seem to be all the rage these days – on screens both big and small – though not everyone gets it right. We Summon the Darkness, now streaming on Netflix, is the latest entry into the genre, a twisty riff on Satanic Panic and the classic slashers we can’t help but return to over and over again. But does it succeed in its attempts at gory goodness? Or is it another stab-and-miss?
WE SUMMON THE DARKNESS: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
The Gist: Indiana, 1988. Three gal pals – alpha Alexis (True Detective‘s Alexandra Daddario), kooky Val (Maddie Hasson), and shy Beverly (Amy Forsyth, The Path) – are on the road headed to a heavy metal concert, but find themselves consistently interrupted by Val’s weak bladder. As they stop to replenish their snack supply (and let Val hit the bathroom), Beverly seems chilled by the front page of a newspaper describing the latest in a series of satanic killings while a pastor (Johnny Knoxville) begs on the TV for help saving the souls of these corrupted devil worshippers. Alexis brushes off Beverly’s reaction, telling her that these stories are supposed to scare other people, not them – and giving us our first hint of what’s to come.
At the concert, the trio befriend another group of three, fellow metalheads Mark (Keean Johnson), Ivan (Austin Swift), and Kovacs (Logan Miller). While things get off to a rough start – they meet after the boys throw a chocolate milkshake on the girls’ windshield – the two groups are brought together by their mutual excitement for the concert (and PBR). Afterwards, Alexis invites the whole gang over to her father’s house for after-show drinks and shenanigans, but nothing is quite as it seems. Once the booze gets flowing, the blood follows soon after – and the entire group finds themselves in for a night that none of them could have expected. You might think you know the formula and what’s ahead, but We Summon the Darkness has a few terrifying tricks up its sleeve.
What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: We Summon the Darkness is rife with references to genre classics like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and it’s also bound to appeal to fans of more recent flicks like Ready or Not, Don’t Breathe, You’re Next, and even The Final Girls. If you’re a fan of trapped-in-the-house horror, tried-and-true slashers, or the Satanic Panic flicks of the ’80s, We Summon the Darkness will be right up your alley.
Performance Worth Watching: Alexandra Daddario has already established herself as one of our most in-demand up-and-coming actresses, but she really gets the opportunity to show off her range here. She wears many faces in We Summon the Darkness, and every single one of them is eerily convincing. Her maniacal laughter will be hard to shake once the flick has come to an end, and she continues to use those extra-terrestrial eyeballs to her advantage. With any luck, Daddario’s performance here is an indication of more interesting material ahead.
Memorable Dialogue: There are so many punchy one-liners that will elicit warm, fuzzy feelings about how well We Summon the Darkness embraces its genre, but one line in particular – spoken while they’re discussing the ritual murders being publicized by the news – stuck with me: “It doesn’t matter if it’s true. It only matters if people believe it.”
Single Best Shot: We Summon the Darkness is full of some pretty stellar (and spoiler-y!) shots, but this look at our central trio towards the beginning of the film is a helluva fun one, and our first glimpse of what murderous mayhem is about to ensue.
Sex and Skin: While things for these two trios may seem to start out heading in a sexy direction, there’s not much sex or non-murder related skin to be had in We Summon the Darkness.
Our Take: With so much ’80s-based horror out there these days – from TV series like Stranger Things and American Horror Story to flicks like The Void, It Follows, and The Guest – it can be difficult to stand out. Fortunately, We Summon the Darkness strikes just the right balance of familiar formula and twisty new takes for it to work. My Friend Dahmer director Marc Meyers is behind We Summon the Darkness, and while markedly different in tone, it’s thanks to his guidance that the flick is able to overcome some of its more cliché moments. We’ve seen a few of these beats before, but solid direction and an endlessly entertaining cast take things to the next level. It’s difficult to play with genre tropes in a way that doesn’t feel tired, and for the most part, We Summon the Darkness manages to avoid these pitfalls. Could a few of the twists have been revealed a little later on? Sure. But that doesn’t mean the flick isn’t still tons of bloody fun.Without giving too much away, I’ll say that I admire the choice to put more than a few spins on a typically tired formula. We don’t necessarily encounter the culprit or the motivation we’d expect, and the evolution of the Final Girl certainly isn’t as predictable as it usually is. It’s also often uproariously funny. Watching a group of first-time murderers determined to get it right provides more laughs than one might expect. I did find myself wishing the flick would lean into its inherent camp a little more, and there were a few sequences that got there – particularly the way the film uses “Heaven Is a Place On Earth” by Belinda Carlisle. With a little more of that, we could have had a runaway hit on our hands (though I still believe there is some serious cult classic potential here).
Despite how entertaining things were from the comfort of my couch, there were several moments where I couldn’t help but wish We Summon the Darkness had its shot at a theatrical run; this is exactly the kind of lean, delightfully demonic popcorn flick you see slightly buzzed with friends and a rowdy crowd of moviegoers. A film energized by its audience. A B-slasher for the ages. While it won’t see its well-deserved day on the big screen, we have high hopes for its life on streaming.
Our Call: STREAM IT. We Summon the Darkness is a gruesomely good riff on a beloved genre that seamlessly manages to mesh the familiar with the refreshing.
Stream We Summon the Darkness on Netflix