Summoning the Spirit (2023) follows a young couple who decides to buy a house in the countryside. The wife is pregnant but then suffers a miscarriage. Loneliness and guilt permeate the couple, with the wife suffering from guilt and searing loneliness. The man, a writer, suffers from writer’s block. It all changes when they come into contact with their neighbors, a group of hippies who are in love with nature and all its wild eccentricities, led by a charismatic man named Arlo. Before long, however, the forest starts to hold sway over the couple as their relationships start to fray apart, and the true deity of the cult is revealed in all its violent glory.

It is common for a filmmaker to take a property of complete schlocky sensibility and try to “elevate” it. A24 has made a brand name by producing “elevated horror” stories, and it is a mistake to assume that it is demeaning a genre. On the contrary, storytelling itself can always welcome new forms of intermingling different ideas to produce something relatively original. If there is anything positive to be attributed to “Summoning the Spirit,” it is relatively original.

Unfortunately, it is harder to justify whether the movie works as a poignant character study of the complexities of grief and loss and finding solace in the most unexpected of places. The caveat the movie also explores is the manipulation of charismatic individuals leading a cult of like-minded followers and how it is easy to prey on the vulnerabilities of individuals. And, of course, amidst all of that, the movie in flashes shows the “Sasquatch,” which you might argue is the selling point of the film if the key art and posters had been any indication.

Summoning the Spirit (2023) Movie

The setup of the movie is already beset with clunky dialogue, and the actions of the cult become unintentionally hilarious rather than beginning a sense of unease. Remarkably, though, the unease permeates during the quieter moments. For example, when Dean (Ernesto Reyes) and Arlo (Jesse Tayeh) are playing chess together, Dean’s remark about Arlo being another Latino searching for validation by controlling a group of white people and Arlo’s stony reaction are both illuminating and manage to evoke the unease the movie has been trying to evoke throughout its runtime.

The narrative takes a while to set itself up, along with the different facets and the numerous premises working within its story, including a subplot about one of the members of the cult is an informant who is ultimately discovered and scared out of the group to run away into the forest, where the sasquatch finally kills her.

For a slow-burn movie like this, a relationship fraying at its edges and the tendrils of cruelty and unease of a cult permeating amongst the unsuspecting newcomers are the strands of the plot to follow, the revelation of the deity being a bigfoot or a sasquatch shown via flashes takes out the meat of the slow burn. It subverts expectations from the viewers, who are now only in service of experiencing the gonzo violence promised due to being gifted a glimpse of the sasquatch or a taste of the violence of the sasquatch as a result.

The B-movie monster element is closely interlinked with the magic realism of the forest itself. As a result, the final climactic sequence of gonzo violence and pools of blood is a welcome respite and also an impressive one, considering the practical effects involved. The amount of limbs being torn apart and bodies being separated from Torsos brings an unfair expectation from this movie: more of the gonzo shlock, less of the character study.

It’s a shame because, on paper, it is an interesting idea: how the forest and nature itself contribute to the monster’s existence and inadvertently create it as a protector. The screenplay never coalesces very well to become a coherent whole, and as a result, scenes flow within each other haphazardly, character interactions sound clunky and stilted, and the moments of elation amongst the members of the cult produce unintentional hilarity.

It might have benefited from completely embracing its schlocky roots, or it should have delved deeper into the cult and its ways of manipulating unsuspecting individuals and produced a thriller with poignancy. Unfortunately, “Summoning the Spirit” becomes neither.

Read More: The 40 Best A24 Movies that You Shouldn’t Miss

Summoning the Spirit (2023) Movie Links: IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes
Summoning the Spirit (2023) Movie Cast: Krystal Millie Valdes, Ernesto Reyes, Jesse Tayeh
Summoning the Spirit (2023) Movie Genre: Horror, Runtime: 1h 37m

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