A slick combination of odd-man-out and supernatural horror, director Mark Meir’s debut feature The Summoned is a solid effort bolstered by the lead performance of J. Quintin Johnson as a determined, positive young man who finds himself in — as the film’s title suggests — a hell of a mess.
Elijah (Johnson) and his girlfriend Lyn (Emma Fitzpatrick of Take Back the Night, Unhuman, and The Collection) are going through some relationship troubles. She is a famous, successful musician who doesn’t acknowledge their relationship publicly, and he is a mechanic and frustrated musician who wants to get married and start a family with her. They have both been invited to a highly elite mental health retreat open only to those who have been summoned. They are hoping to make some headway into solving their issues there.
Joining them on the retreat are Tara (Angela Gulner), a well-known and highly narcissistic actress, and Joe (Salvador Chacon), a rich self-help guru. The two also happen to be ex-spouses. This foursome is hosted by Dr. Frost (Frederick Stuart), a charismatic new age type.
A great deal of tension and high stakes take place within the group, with Elijah being offered temptations when he is not being fed suspicions. He is also the victim of some unsettling dreams and mysterious thoughts. Suffice it to say that Faustian bargains are hinted at early on. It all leads up to some surprises that are not always what savvy viewers might expect, thanks to a clever screenplay from Yuri Baranovsky that is peppered with occasional uses of humor to lighten and heighten the darker proceedings.
The cast members all give game performances, with Gulner and Stuart leaning into the more scenery-chewing turns asked of their characters, Fitzpatrick playing things much straighter, and Chacon adding an element of sleazy mystery. Johnson plays off of everyone terrifically, and his character is given a marvelous arc with which to work. Prepare to be floored by a musical number between Johnson and Fitzpatrick, as well.
Meir shows a deft hand in his debut at the helm, staying one step ahead of viewers and delivering a fair share of surprises and intrigue along the way. He also uses some fast-paced editing sequences to further keep things slightly off balance for both Elijah and viewers.
The Summoned treads some familiar territory at times but has plenty of heart and chutzpah to recommend it as an interesting, entertaining watch. Fans of fish-out-of-water horror and Mephistophelean movies should find plenty to enjoy with this feature.(3.5 / 5)
The Summoned screened as part of Overlook Film Festival, which took place June 2–5, 2022 in New Orleans.
XYZ Films has acquired The Summoned and is planning a North American release of the film in July of 2022.