An actress, a business mogul, and a platinum-selling musician alongside her mechanic boyfriend arrive at a cabin in the woods for a three day therapy session. This isn’t the setup to a joke, but the basic premise of Mark Meir’s The Summoned, which celebrated its world premiere at the 2022 Overlook Film Festival. In reality, this group didn’t just show up to the cabin, but were instead summoned by the elusive Justus Frost, which is one heck of a cinematic name. He runs this self-help retreat for the 1% of entertainers and the elite, in hopes of helping his esteemed guests discover their true potential. So just based off the guest list alone, our protagonist Elijah feels a bit out of place and shows his hesitancy to take part from the get-go. But as one character exclaims, “Let’s go change our motherf***in lives”, perhaps it’s this type of energy that Elijah feels him and his girlfriend need to move forward.
One key element as to why The Summoned works so well is made apparent fairly quickly: Meir and writer Yuri Baranovsky are massive fans of genre films, specifically horror. It’s a genre that has gotten much backlash over its cinematic history, but perhaps has the most dedicated fanbase around supporting it. Within the genre, Meir and Baranovsky are able to craft a morality tale that deals with a handful of the deadly sins, genuine dread, and a high level of entertainment value, packed all into a package under 90 minutes. After the initial setup of the film, it’s off to the races pretty quickly as Elijah comes to the conclusion all horror protagonists face: “something is deeply wrong with this place”. As his nightmares start feeling more real and he begins discovering things that defy the laws of physics, those around him start revealing themselves and their fears, sins, and more. It is therapy after all, isn’t that why they showed up?
During his teachings, which begin at 3AM as all professionals usually do, Frost posits that there is nothing more damaging than the false idea of sin. At this retreat, his goal is to allow his guests to feel freer than ever before, and in turn, becoming the people they are truly meant to be. So as Elijah and those around him begin giving into their greatest vices and pleasures, the question begins to arise on whether or not this is actually meant to be self-help, or if it is just an excuse for elite celebrities to indulge themselves in carnal pleasures and vices. Between the actress who livestreams everything to her loyal fans and the adulterous business mogul who flashes his money around like it’s nothing, the performances brought to the table are heightened for a playful sense of poking fun at more expensive retreats such as these. But as soon as all the game pieces are set up and ready, one tumbles and everything begins to burst apart at the seams.
One decision can cause an immediate ripple that affects all those around you. Elijah quickly learns this around the midway point of the film when everything goes haywire at the retreat. The very laws of physics start dwindling even further into incoherence. Those around him start acting erratically, and at times, hyper-violent. It seems Frost’s teachings have paid off, as these guests have given into their truest selves. And since this is a horror film, the chances of those selves being angelic were never too high. As pandemonium ensues and one of the most twisted games of FMK takes place, The Summoned cements itself as true tongue-in-cheek horror fun. It’s not played for the sake of humor mind you, as the setting of the film is genuinely nightmarish. Yet from a cinematic perspective, the indulgences taken will force a wicked smile onto the viewer nevertheless. If horror is great at anything, it’s allowing its audience to safely indulge in some vices or sins, even if only for the runtime of the film.
The Summoned lands on North American VOD on July 7th, 2022.