We Summon the Darkness is set in the late ’80sAmerican Midwest, a locale that brought us horror classics such as Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Near Dark.

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We Summon the Darkness is set in the late ’80sAmerican Midwest, a locale that brought us horror classics such as Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Near Dark.

But it was shot in Friendly Manitoba in the summer of 2018. Perhaps that’s why the film’s threat level seems diminished.

This specific Midwest is one gripped by fear. Radio and TV reports are filling the airwaves with stories of mass murders, in which police are finding signs of devil worship among the bloody victims.

Mongrel Media</p><p>Jackass Johnny Knoxville takes a dark turn as an evil pastor.</p>

Mongrel Media

Jackass Johnny Knoxville takes a dark turn as an evil pastor.

Stoking the flames of fear is gaunt TV evangelist Pastor John Henry Butler (Johnny Knoxville, radically departing from his knucklehead Jackass persona) invoking Scripture in his battle with the Dark One.

Listening to these reports are a trio of young women on a good old-fashioned road trip. Alexis (Alexandra Daddario of Baywatch and the Percy Jackson series) is in the driver’s seat, literally and figuratively, as she hears a radio report and blows it off: "This is supposed to scare other people, not us."

Dangerous blond Val (Maddie Hasson) doesn’t look too shaken. But in the back seat, figuratively and literally, Bev (Amy Forsyth) registers some unease, no doubt because the gals are on their way to a concert by a band called Soldiers of Satan.

Outside the rural concert venue — shades of the documentary Heavy Metal Parking Lot — the three meet up with a trio of male hellraisers, Mark (Keean Johnson), Kovacs (Logan Miller) and Ivan (Austin Swift). Despite a rocky start, both trios head for Alexis’s dad’s place in the country for a down-and-dirty good time, culminating in a game of Never Did I Ever...

Maddie Hasson and Alexandra Daddario in We Summon the Darkness. Mongrel Media.</p>

Maddie Hasson and Alexandra Daddario in We Summon the Darkness. Mongrel Media.

What follows may be down and dirty, but it’s no sane person’s idea of a good time.

The film ultimately ends in a sustained, bloody battle for survival, which may not be the direction anyone anticipated from director Marc Meyers, whose last film, My Friend Dahmer, was comparatively circumspect considering its subject: serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer.

This deeper plunge into the horror genre sees Meyers having some bloody fun, with the restraints more or less removed.

Meyers still finds time to make satiric points. The so-called "satanic panic" that ran amok in the ’80s and ’90s has a certain resonance these days, when fear remains an essential tool in the hands of unscrupulous manipulators. At the same time, Meyers, working from a script by Alan Trezza, has a gleeful time messing with audience expectations, with the line between the protagonists and antagonists shifting in unexpected and entertaining ways.

That said, Meyers has some things to learn about creating real suspense. The movie isn’t especially scary — kind of a big deal, even if it’s technically a horror-comedy. Mired in the fun and games, Meyers lacks the killer instinct of the better horror directors.

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @FreepKing

Randall King

Randall King
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In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

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