Jaclyn Bartlett says The Summoned offers an intriguing view of how easily the best of us can set aside our morals to pursue success.
Screened at the 2022 Overlook Film Festival in New Orleans, The Summoned (2022), is an occult horror mystery directed by Mark Meir and written by Yuri Baranovsky, is an examination of corruption. The film follows a couple attending a self-help seminar that, despite appearances, clearly has something sinister brewing behind the scenes. Through the couple’s descent into darkness, a portrait of the price of success is painted.
Elijah (J. Quinton Johnson) and Lyn (Emma Fitzpatrick), a high-profile musician, drive to an exclusive seminar at the famous Staufen House. On their way, they come across a car on the roadside and stop to help. Elijah meets a strange man (Meir) who appears fearful of the couple and runs away. They shrug the encounter off and continue onward. After arriving at the house, Elijah is intimidated by the famous guests, Joe (Salvador Chacon), a wealthy author of a book on how to get rich fast, and Tara (Angela Gulner), an arrogant actress. Dr. Frost (Frederick Stuart), who leads the seminar, explains that it will help the guests learn to achieve their full potential by succumbing to the sins of the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life. Elijah grows wary of staying at the house with the combination of various eerie moments and is unsettled by dreams throughout his stay.
The Summoned offers an intriguing story that captivates us by slowly hinting at the darkness beneath a seminar's innocent guise. It leaves us questioning which characters we can genuinely trust and what we would sacrifice for success. While deals with the devil and ritualistic sacrifices aren’t a new concept, the film thought-provokingly portrays how easy it is, even for the best of us, to put aside our morals to pursue fame and fortune.
The narrative builds as Elijah succumbs to the three great sins, but it isn’t clear that he is being manipulated. The creative way the film depicts his actions to be part of a larger plan is by changing the large paintings displayed in the house to represent his sins. The images transform from bright and peaceful to offensive and dismal works.
The character dynamics are enjoyable, specifically, Elijah and Lyn’s banter and Tara’s “diva” persona. The dialogue is often comedic. The exchanges between the couple feel authentic, which made me want to root for them as I was quickly attached to their characters. While entertaining, the comedy reduces some of the tension at times. The pacing also left something to be desired. It doesn’t offer much in terms of scares and spends significant time building up the suspense with little payoff in key moments.
While not frightening, The Summoned offers an intriguing narrative and a thought-provoking commentary on the cost of success.