REVIEW: We Summon The Darkness (2019)

dir. Marc Meyers.

In the late 80s, somewhere in rural Indiana, three young women cut across country en-route to a metal concert. Decked out in leathers, “Lord Lucifer” patches and inverted-crucifixes they’re every inch the Conservative-Evangelical nightmare, whilst headlines warn of a satanic cult that have claimed yet more victims. So when the friends meet a group of boys – who seem to have an unhealthy interest in the murders – things are set to go south fast.

Recent years have seen a slew of movies use occultism as a platform for such discursive topics as patriarchy, puritanism and politics, whilst simultaneously the ongoing resurgence of 80s-set nostalgia (courtesy of Stranger Things et al) shows little sign of abating. Locating Marc Meyers’ movie within these twin trends seems only natural, and given the well-documented “satanic panic” of the 1980s it creates a wide sandbox for the thematic weight of the former to be sugared with the stylistic trappings of the latter.

The motif of female empowerment, for instance, is set up from the off. “Make-up is like war paint… for sex,” quips Bev (Amy Forsyth) to Val (Maddie Hasson) and Alexis (Alexandra Daddario), signally both autonomy over their bodies but also invoking the language of conflict. Similarly, when Val later catches the attention of a middle-aged dad she enjoys his ogling eyes, even as his wife returns with their kids. There is a sense that the moral integrity of the nuclear family is being endangered – rather willingly – by such battle lines.

Exactly where this danger might lead is a cause of barely concealed hysteria. With Televangelist John Henry Butler (a straight-shooting turn from Jackass‘ Johnny Knoxville) railing on the airwaves against the evils of rock music, a kindly shopkeeper seems more sympathetic. “Girls, be careful now”, he says. “There’s a lot of evil out there”. One can’t help but feel his concern is based not only on the their outfits but also the perceived vulnerability of their gender: they are seen as both agents of transgression and potential victims.

As the narrative unfolds it is in these spaces between appearances and reality, occult and orthodoxy, agent and victim where Meyers does his most interesting work, playing with the boundaries between such binaries. And whilst a midpoint revelation is not unpredictable it does push sub-text into text, raising implicit ideas to the surface and interrogating the different incarnations of evil.

To say more would be to court spoilers, though the third act abandons nuance for reductive beats with characters reduced to straw men and ideologues. However the invitation remains the same: regardless of the source, an uncritical adherence to dogma opens the door to demons, who may, or may not, wear horns.

Tim Coleman

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