Quick Reviews: 'We Summon The Darkness', 'Antebellum' | Horror Thriller, Janelle Monáe
WE SUMMON THE DARKNESS
Between all the artsy arthouse stuff and world-building blockbusters, most importantly because it’s starting to be the award season prestige coming through, it can be fun to sit back to relax while enjoying some B-movie shenanigans. Marc Meyers directs and Alan Trezza writes We Summon The Darkness, which fits those parameters, being a thriller that finds us with three young women travelling to a metal concert in the 1980s where they eventually meet three guys who they invite with them to one’s mansion home to spend the evening. This is when the ”satanic panic” was at its peak so there seem to be satanic, ritualistic murders happening so obviously it finds its way to affect these six youths during the night. ”Darkness” has its fun with B-movie tropes but never unveils any sort of hook to make it stand out.
Filmmakers are very fortunate with the main cast; Alexandra Daddario (Alexis), Maddie Hasson (Val), Amy Forsyth (Beverly), Logan Miller (Kovacs), Austin Swift (Ivan) and Keean Johnson (Mark) who manage to play to the genre strengths to the best of their abilities. Everyone at the very least understands their roles while Hasson and Forsyth actually have fun with them in the best way possible. In these types of movies where the hair is long, alcohol lingers in the air and metal soundtrack blasts through the speakers, you don’t have to be perfect if you’re entertaining. And two of them indeed are. Other than that the gore is rather suitable, cinematography is clean enough and the concert/parking lot scenes are well crafted.
Where the death growls fall flat however are Trezza’s script and Meyers’ handling of it. The girls’ drive to the concert makes the least bit of sense after the ”plot twist” or one’s resemblance because the writing completely gets rid of the surprise or effect of it. Once we finally get to the so-called-plot-twist, it takes another 30 minutes for the action to kick in. Once the action kicks in you realise how mediocre the execution is. Where are the satanic elements? Where are the religious elements? Or even any kind of ridiculousness? It just becomes as thrilling as a game of hide and seek.
During these parts we get introduced to a stepmom who should’ve been written out because she leads to a cop arriving who becomes the least effective part of the film. You’ve established the players, there is no need for boring stepmoms or cops. One missed opportunity is Johnny Knoxville’s character who should’ve made an entrance earlier, he had the perfect B-movie villain sleaziness and basically kickstarts the main story, instead he is in and out way too quickly. Too bad.
Smileys: Maddie Hasson, Amy Forsyth
Frowneys: Atmosphere, tone, screenplay
They also didn’t even summon anything and it was rather light throughout.
Antebellum might very well be the most perplexing piece of work to come out in the last few years as to how a viewer would approach discussing it in any way. Janelle Monáe stars as both Eden and Veronica; Eden is a slave at a 19th century plantation looking for a chance to escape while Veronica is an author and a speaker on black people’s issues in modern time, the movie structuring itself changing between these two timelines. We might as well just get into it so let’s start by saying that this film is smart. It’s smart in that it takes risks, it is unique and there’s a really compelling story which speaks to both past and present. However it is also reprehensibly crafted, being a horror film with no sense of horror since it looks like a fantasy film that is more interested in showing more physical pain than anything emotional.
Monáe miraculously manages to keep her performance above the surface level, in a role that a less talented lead could’ve easily squandered to dispassionate movement and directionless faces. That all is a benefit for the story which, as said, is admirably ambitious in every sense. Drawing parallels through American history to where the country is now works great so I can see how others can appreciate it more overall, I rather see the film having potential for greatness and not succeeding. Trying to bring in the horror tropes later on is perhaps the biggest sign of that since the film starts by showing us plenty of horrible, inhumane actions done to slaves. We’ve already seen the atrocities and felt sick so the ”scares” later barely have any impact.
Instead of sticking to horror or even trying to analyse the trauma of violence, captivity or multiple rapes, Antebellum wholeheartedly turns into fantasy film. What’s the purpose of shooting everything during golden hour, seven thousand light flares, skyline silhouettes or unnaturally moody restaurant settings other than trying to flex? It certainly doesn’t serve the story. Directing and writing duo Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz seem to have no interest in grounding the story despite dealing with real life, no matter the time period. They direct the actors to only scream and chit-chat just so they can get to the plot twist which is the film’s whole identity. Just like the story, the twist is clever but mishandled.
Every problem which includes mismanaged genre, characters, and visual style eventually comes together in one slow motion shot at the end which is laugh inducing in the worst way, it’s like the directors congratulating themselves on erasing slavery while saying how it affects people still today. It’s an oxymoron.
Frowneys: Directing, cinematography, atmosphere, characterisation
I am exhausted.