Two high profile couples are forced to examine the cost of success when they’re invited to an exclusive self-help retreat at the elusive Stauphen House where their ancestors sold their souls generations prior.

The Summoned begins very much like Get Out (2017), with a young couple–a white woman and a black man–driving through a forest, with ominous camera angles and music accompanying the passage. The couple, Lyn and Elijah, are driving to a highly exclusive mental health retreat that is reserved for the rich and famous, and only accessible once you have been “summoned”. Immediately apparent is the imbalance within the couple and Elijah’s discomfort with it, as well as with this retreat. Here is where the similarities with Get Out end. Where Get Out is a film rich with subtle, and some not so subtle, but highly nuanced themes and metaphors surrounding race and power in the United States, The Summoned is a blunt and shallow examination of the desire for wealth and fame.

Through awkward dialogue, it is revealed that Lyn is a multi-platinum and grossly wealthy pop star, while Elijah is a mechanic… yes, a mechanic. Not even a high-end mechanic that works on Ferraris or Teslas, but a mom & pop shop mechanic and a down on his luck sort of guy. He is a musician as well, but never plays and seemingly has never had a gig, so the big question is how the hell did these two meet? It seems so outlandish right from the get-go, but somehow J. Quinton Johnson (of Hamilton and In the Heights) does such a bang-up job with the character Elijah that it’s easy to look past this weird dynamic. In fact, Johnson as a fish-out-of-water “regular person” among the three other super rich and famous characters attending the retreat is the best part of the film. Most viewers will find Elijah immediately relatable, and it’s fun to think “what would I do if I found myself in this weird situation”. The Summoned does a decent job of building the tension between him and his surroundings, and this tension will likely carry most viewers to the end of the film. However, ultimately disappointment awaits them there.

The shortcomings of The Summoned are its shallow and almost cartoonish take on wealth and fame that plays towards a completely unoriginal and unsatisfying ending. The bones of something good are in there, but the body of the film languishes like a rotting carcass. When we meet the rest of the characters it becomes apparent that all subtleties are thrown out the window. Joe is a wealthy tycoon with a bestselling inspirational book, and Tara is a vapid and vain actress only concerned with how her tits look on screen. Some of this makes sense at the end when the twist is revealed, but through more than 3/4 of the screen time we are left with shallow characters that teeter into the territory of stereotypes and are boring to watch.

Dr. Frost, the eccentric owner of The Stauphen House and the leader of the retreat, is almost comical in his over-the-top New Age quack doctor appeal, and the weird groundskeeper (played by the director) is just silly in his sometimes stilted and sometimes freaking out nature. Even Lyn, the supposed mega-star, could be summed up as just a pretty and vaguely troubled rich girl. Even with the charismatic and often funny Elijah to play off them, most of the interactions are completely forgettable. The actors are doing a decent job, but there is just nothing to work with; interactions are lifeless and dialogue is uninspired.

The Stauphen House, a sprawling mansion with cabin-like stylings set in the middle of a beautiful nowhere, is believable as a self-help retreat for wealthy folks. However, the mansion is massively underutilized in the movie and serves more as a display of wealth and a means of isolation for the plot than as a whole beast of its own. It’s hard not to compare it to the Armitage home in Get Out, or even the Bachoff music school in The Perfection, where the locations themselves are so intertwined with the antagonism of the story that just thinking about them raises your blood pressure. The Stauphen House could have easily been replaced with a yurt in the forest or a bed & breakfast in Nantucket and very little would have changed story-wise, despite what a big deal some of the dialogue makes of it. 

The twist at the end is an interesting concept, but the execution is lackluster and completely devoid of any innovative visuals. We are told more than we are shown (without giving too much away) and where fun effects could be is just a few blood splatters or expositional dialogue. Even the smallest bit of visual effects could have elevated The Summoned to a whole new level of horror goodness.

That being said, The Summoned isn’t without its merits. It plays on some old tropes–such as the cost of wealth–in an interesting way, and Elijah is a truly fun character to watch as he navigates this weird and increasingly hostel space. Fans of odd-man-out horror will enjoy the dynamics of The Summoned. Also, Johnson has an incredible musical number that is worth the runtime alone.

It was announced at Overlook Film Festival that XYZ Films has officially purchased the film and it will be available later in July 2022, so you can check it out for yourself soon.

We Watched The Summoned as Part of The Overlook Film Festival 2022 Line-up

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