Screenwriter Yuri Baranovsky and director Mark Meir don’t go to any trouble at all in hiding their appreciation for, homage to and theft from Jordan Peele’s blockbuster, “Get Out.”
So it’d be remiss of me to not talk about the tribute that “The Summoned” is. It’s obvious in its borrowings and it’s a polished-enough horror thriller that it’s not an embarrassment to its antecedent, so there’s nothing “spoiler” about mentioning its similarities. It’s “Get Out” without a big studio behind it, without so much as a single “name” in the cast and without the potent racial messaging of Peele’s break-out film.
An attractive young couple (J. Quinton Johnson and Emma Fitzpatrick) make their way to a remote mansion for a self-help couples/therapy weekend with the hottest self-made guru going.
Their host, we’re assured, is “eccentric…He has changed people’s lives.“
Lyn (Fitzpatrick, of “The Social Network” and “Take Back the Night”) is a pop star who goes by Joplin Rose and is shallow enough to be thrilled to be in the exclusive care of the West Coast’s most idolized guru. Elijah (Johnson of “In the Heights”) is an aspiring musician but full-time mechanic who came along for this “white people s—” just to advance their relationship.
On arrival, the florid Dr. Justus Frost (Frederick Stuart of TV’s “Empty Space”) sells them on taking the chance to “alter what is possible in your and your lives,” as everybody realizes just how “exclusive” this place is. Only movie star Tara (Angela Gulner) and, unbeknownst to her, her rich and famous author/ex-husband (Salvador Chacon) are staying there as well.
Everybody’s “just trying to be less broken,” or “working on our couples’ ‘stuff'” or “If I could marry cocaine, I WOULD,” so you’d think they’d be too busy for any intrigues.
But we’ve already noticed that the place has no staff, that efforts to separate the one couple that’s currently “together” are part of the “cure.” Elijah keeps seeing this scary looking local (director Meir) who responded to their stopping to see if his truck had broken down by stealing Elijah’s necklace.
All is not as it seems.
The cast is pretty good, I have to say, with Gulner nicely vamping up the “sexy and I know it” bit. Stuart affects courtly, Old World or Old South “charm” which any horror fan knows is a cover for “sinister.”
The plot is entirely too predictable, so much in the thrall of “Get Out” that we don’t need to see anything other than the fact that there’s a lone Black man in the cast to sense what’s coming.
No, they’re not identical films and the differences are big enough and the twists different enough that it’s not a spoiler to compare the two. But come on.
Still, major style points to bit player turned first-time director Meir for managing a spooky tone and great atmosphere on a shoestring. He cast well, considering his budget. The plot? Hollywood pro forma, so much so that the homage gives itself away in the damned trailer. That’s no reason to not get another shot, though.
Rating: unrated, violence, sex, profanity
Cast: J. Quinton Johnson, Emma Fitzpatrick, Angela Gulner, Salvador Chacon, Mark Meir and Frederick Stuart.
Credits: Directed by Mark Meir, scripted by Yuri Baranovsky. An XYZ release.
Running time: 1:27