The Satanic Panic phenomenon of the ‘80s is one of the strangest, most fascinating studies in social upheaval. It taught people an all new tenet: fear thy neighbor. Just as in the witch trials in days past, it brought out the worst in us. Anything and anyone thought to be outside the norm was deemed satanic, cult-like, and a dangerous influence...
...Arguably, these attitudes linger today around the edges of every subculture out there. It should come as no surprise, then, that horror often takes these elements and twists them, even going so far as to create an entire subgenre and trope structure from the exploration of Satanic cults.
The fun thing about cults in film is they can be made to do anything, and they are built on the unexpected. While there may be tropes in cult films we expect to see touched, that doesn’t mean they’re all the same. In fact, recently there have been a few movies that take great pleasure in knowing what we expect and flipping it around on us. We Summon the Darkness, written by Alan Trezza and directed by Marc Meyers, is one such film. And, man, does it have a good time spinning us around.
Satanic panic is everywhere in We Summon the Darkness. A string of murders across the country has been attributed to and marked by a Satanic cult terrorizing various towns. Newspapers and TV broadcasts are denouncing them with equal measures fear and sadness. Church pastors broadcasting across the airwaves are speaking out against the evil influence of heavy metal on the younger public. Almost every non-dialogue moment in the setup of this film is filled with some account of the murders, or the anxiety resulting from them. The younger public, meanwhile, is following various heavy metal bands on tours. Alexis (played with unhinged perfection by Alexandra Daddario), Val (the equally madly delightful Maddie Hasson), and Beverly (Amy Forsyth, with quiet power) are three best friends who meet up with a group of guys at a heavy metal show and have “a night we’ll remember for years to come”. In the world of We Summon the Darkness, you either live to spite the anxiety, or live controlled by it. And one of you isn’t going to make it.
This may be the most fun movie I’ve ever seen that dips its brush into the Satanic panic palette and twists until it creates the unexpected. Religious extremism never looked so good or so uncontainable. Everything I thought I knew about it, even from the trailers, gets flipped and turned and it could not have been more enjoyable.
The central cast is clearly having fun going completely crazy, the soundtrack bops (I may not be able to think about “Heaven is a Place on Earth” the same for a while), and the exploration of the effects of social panic is unique and fascinating. How do we respond when we’re afraid of things that pervade our world but that we don’t understand? Can we really trust what we see?
Darkly hilarious and packed to the hilt with women unafraid to speak their minds and fight back, it feels a little like this movie was a lot of something I didn’t know I needed. Right now, we need to take the Scary Thing and find a way to laugh in its face, and We Summon the Darkness provides in spades. A double feature conversation I would sign all the way up for? Chelsea Stardust’s Satanic Panic and this.
So, if you need a break from the pervading sense of anxiety floating around everywhere, We Summon the Darkness is here for you.
Out on VOD April 10th from Saban Films.
By Katelyn Nelson
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