Friday, October 21, 2022

Brooklyn Horror ’22: Summoners

Jess Whitman and her high school friend Alana Wheeler were good witches, but not like anything you have seen in Bewitched or on the Hallmark Channel. Despite their power, life still dealt them some tough cards. When they dabble in some dangerous magic, the consequences are profoundly dangerous in Terence Krey’s Summoners, which premiered at this year’s Brooklyn Horror Film Festival.

Whitman rarely returns home after college, but for some reason she suddenly felt compelled to visit her widower father Doug. It will start to make sense when happens to run into Wheeler. They had practiced magic together in high school, until the death of Whitman’s mother left her disillusioned with witchcraft and the idea of the supernatural in general. Whitman has yet to properly deal with her mother’s passing, because she knows her mom had been unfaithful to her father at the time—but she never knew if he knew.

Wheeler more or less admits she “called” Wheeler home, hoping she would help with a serious ritual. She wants to summon a “sin-eating” spirit to give some relief to a friend. Of course, any tormented entity carrying that much pain and resentment is going to be angry and difficult to control.

builds on and surpasses the psychologically complex horror Krey developed with his partner and on-screen lead Christine Nyland in their first feature, An Unquiet Grave. Both films deal frankly with guilt and grief, with more sophistication and empathy than anything A24 has ever released. Viewers really feel for these three major characters, but Krey still takes care of the horror business. The film is largely built around several spell-casting rituals that are all highly atmospheric and increasingly ominous.

Nyland and McLean Peterson are terrific as Whitman and Wheeler. They freak-out appropriately, but more importantly they develop a sense of the two friends’ long, complicated shared history. Yet, even though horror fan-favorite Larry Fessenden does not have any “scary” scenes as Doug Whitman, he truly expresses the film’s themes with great sensitivity and restraint. It is a quiet performance, but one of his best.

might be one of the best indie horror films of the year, because it delves deeply into the sinister side of the supernatural, while keeping firmly grounded in the real world. In this case, its micro-budget might have been an advantage, because its unvarnished small-town surroundings feels so much like our own world. Very highly recommended, Summoners world-premiered at this year’s Brooklyn Horror Film Festival.