The Summoned, 2022.
Directed by Mark Meir.
Starring Emma Fitzpatrick, J. Quinton Johnson, Salvador Chacon, and Angela Gulner.
Two high-profile couples are forced to examine the cost of success when they’re invited to an exclusive self-help retreat with a sinister side.
Mark Meir’s directorial debut The Summoned is sure to be compared to both Get Out and Ready or Not for as long as people will still be talking about it, and while Meir’s film can’t help but feel inferior next to those pictures, it’s still a respectable swing that doesn’t quite hit the mark.
Elijah (J. Quinton Johnson) is a modest young man working as a mechanic, no matter that his real passion is music. His girlfriend Lyn (Emma Fitzpatrick), meanwhile, is a rising star singer-songwriter, who is invited – or rather, summoned – to an exclusive, remote self-help retreat intended to help wealthy clients find themselves.
Elijah joins Lyn as his plus-one, and there they cross paths with entrepreneur Joe (Salvador Chacon) and his ex-wife Tara (Angela Gulner), as well as the Taika Waititi-esque figure running the facility, Dr. Justus Frost (Frederick Stuart). While it initially seems like this trip could present Elijah with the opportunity to finally make music for a living, it soon becomes clear that every deal has a cost.
Meir and screenwriter Yuri Baranovsky certainly succeed in gradually turning the screws in their story’s early going; if you’ve read little about the movie, you’ll likely be unsure quite where it’s all going, and precisely what the nature of Elijah’s predicament is. Most obviously, he’s outclassed by his more well-to-do fellow attendees and crucially the only Black individual at the retreat, efficiently suffusing the narrative with an underlayer of unease.
While those early scenes might suggest The Summoned to be a satirical critique of the recuperative mental health faculties afforded to the rich and famous, it’s really more of a stinging jab at class divides, privilege, and how even immense talent can struggle to rise to the top, no matter how impressive.
In Elijah’s case, a show-stopping mid-film musical sequence confirms he’s got quite the set of pipes on him, and as humble as he strives to be, his frustration at his lack of success – compared to his less-talented, more mainstream-skewing partner Lyn – is palpable. Lead J. Quinton Johnson is often very good here as a man desperate to better his station in light of a seemingly once-in-a-lifetime offer, and easy to cheer for as his situation becomes more outwardly horrific.
Yet there’s no mistaking that Meir’s film becomes markedly less engaging after its setup, and once again after it fully plays its hand in a third act that, without giving too much away, flies wildly off the rails. The overall meditation on “sin” and the mechanics of the focal predicament are too familiar and, honestly, uninteresting to stand out in a genre that’s previously done both much better.
But it’s certainly not a bad effort; again, Johnson’s performance is gripping and the work of the supporting cast is generally solid, while in his filmmaking debut Meir acquits himself well with sturdy visual composition. It’s ultimately the script that doesn’t quite hold together, ensuring that this romp crystalises into something more stock and less involving.
The Summoned begins in tantalising fashion and benefits from the work of skilled lead J. Quinton Johnson, yet becomes considerably less interesting the longer it ambles on.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.