(director: Mark Meir; screenwriter: Yuri Baranovsky; cinematographer: Justin Morrison; music: Brian Satterwhite; cast:  Mark Meir (Abe), Emma Fitzpatrick (Jopyn Rose), J. Quinton Johnson (Elijah Moulting), Frederick Stuart (Dr. Justus Frost), Salvador Chacon (Joe Agrippa), Gary Reichling (limo driver), Angela Gulner (Tara Grandier); Runtime:  84; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Yuri Baranovsky, Angela Gulner, Mark Meir, Justin Morrison, Dashiell Reinhardt; XYZ; 2022)

“The film goes awry because it becomes heavy-handed, murky and confusing in its storytelling.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

An updated Faustian morality film with supernatural trappings directed by the Jewish-Ukrainian writer/character actor Mark Meir, making his feature directorial debut and also playing a small part as a scary looking local. It’s unevenly written by Yuri Baranovsky, whose characters are undeveloped. Nevertheless the actors seem to be having fun while delivering fine performances and it’s a well-produced indie horror pic even if done on a low-budget. Baranovsky finds clever ways to use the exclusive self-help retreat story as a cover for the unmaking of selfish evils.   Dr. Justus Frost (Frederick Stuart) is an eccentric, enigmatic and reclusive successful self-help therapist from the West Coast who summons the Black mechanic Elijah Moulton (J. Quinton Johnson) and his rockstar girlfriend, Joplyn Rose (Emma Fitzpatrick), to his isolated estate for a weekend session to improve their relationship. Joining the couple are guests already there, Joe Agrippa (Salvador Chacon), a wealthy celebrity venture capitalist, and his ex-wife, Tara Grandier (Angela Gulner), an actor and social media maven.

As the weekend progresses, Frost challenges his guests to explore their past regressions and embrace change. As the games begin, secrets come out, and jealousies, insecurities, and resentments emerge. We learn that the singer Joplyn secretly dates Elijah, who is an aspiring musician.  In the midst of some strife Elijah begins to hallucinate and becomes unglued by horrible nightmare visions. We learn that Frost has brought Elijah here to settle a generations-old supernatural debt made by his ancestors, as the conceit revealed is over a “deal made with the devil.”

As more things gets revealed, the healing session turns uglier. Once appearances drop, The Summoned reveals its satanic intentions and its intentions to make it into a satire on religion.

Gulner catches our attention for being so wicked while making “F*ck Marry Kill” jokes and waving an axe. Emma Fitzpatrick does an attic monologue while twirling a knife. Salvador Chacon is comical expressing his frustrations over the amount of work he’s forced to complete.

In Meir’s more successful moments, his moralistic tale is less scary than funny (though maintaining a spooky atmosphere throughout). I think he would like it to be a Sam Raimi cult film, someone he’s been influenced by. The film goes awry because it becomes heavy-handed, murky and confusing in its storytelling.

It’s a wacky ‘midnight’ film that plays well for the right audience, one that respects old horror films but welcomes new ways to do them. It also shows it has no problem stealing from Jordan Peele’s smash-hit, “Get Out.”

If you can just go with the film as it takes a change of direction without questioning it, you will probably like it better than I did.

It played at the Overlook Film Festival.

REVIEWED ON 7/12/2022  GRADE: B-