At the height of the ‘Satanic Panic’ in 1988 Indiana, Alexis (Alexandra Daddario), Val (Maddie Hasson) and Bev (Amy Forsyth) embark on a road trip to a heavy metal concert. In the background, TV evangelist Pastor John Henry Butler (Johnny Knoxville) says heavy metal rock music is an evil waiting to corrupt everyone’s kids, and while there’s recently been a string of satanic killings, it’s all no worry to the girls. Stopping off at a gas station, the cashier tells them to be careful, but they laugh: “Why? You don’t think we can fend for ourselves?”
In the parking lot of the concert, the girls meet Mark (Keenan Johnson), Kovacs (Logan Miller) and Ivan (Austin Swift, brother of Taylor) — three brash, aspiring musicians. A rocky start is quickly forgotten when they all hit it off during the concert, and the girls invite the trio back to Alexis’s secluded home for an after-party. It’s here that a game of “Never Have I Ever” reveals some shocking truths as the film’s big twist kicks off. (Albeit one that, if you’ve seen the trailer or poster, isn’t all that difficult to deduce.)
In a media landscape currently fixated with ’80s nostalgia, the historical setting here is relievedly accommodating — providing a comfortable overview of the decade’s music, paranoia, and occasional mayhem. Big hair, studded leather jackets, and black eyeliner see the girls dressed to the nines, with Val’s blonde hair, red lipstick, and choker painting her as a Madonna-type vixen. Daddario and Hasson particularly shine in their respective roles, their wild performances emanating an infectious fun that makes them all the more enjoyable to watch. Writer Alan Trezza had previously worked with Daddario in Burying the Ex, and so it’s perhaps not surprising that he knows how to write characters for her. Knoxville, meanwhile, moves away from the comedic persona perfected on Jackass and instead delivers a promising, angry performance.
Though it gets off to a strong start, We Summon the Darkness soon drops into the overly familiar beats of the genre. Each aspect of the film has essentially been already exhausted, but its exploration of gender norms is refreshing and helps to establish an exciting narrative out of the otherwise mundane. The rock soundtrack also dissolves into a decent, tension-building score, but it only makes me wish it went completely off the rails by blasting heavy metal throughout. Despite the promising entertainment, the plot ultimately lacks the energy necessary to carry its central twist full-term — but Marc Meyers’ film is an easy crowd-pleaser for its presumed target audience.
We Summon the Darkness is available on VOD and Digital HD from April 10th.