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On Blu-ray/DVD/VOD: WE SUMMON THE DARKNESS (2020) and 1BR (2020)

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WE SUMMON THE DARKNESS
(US/UK - 2020)


Oh, horror hipsters. Will you ever not be the easiest lays in fandom? It was a foregone conclusion that a retro '80s Satanic Panic-themed heavy metal fright flick would be lauded as the new Horror Insta-Classic of the Year of the Week (© William Wilson) sight unseen, so WE SUMMON THE DARKNESS didn't even feel the need to try. It constantly trips over its own feet and nothing that happens in it will come as a surprise unless you've never seen a movie before. Set in Indiana in 1988, the film opens with news on the radio of a string of ritual slayings being committed by a Satanic cult operating throughout the Midwestern heartland. But that's of little concern to three bad-girl metal babes--Alexis (Alexandra Daddario, also one of 36 credited producers), Val (Maddie Hasson), and Beverly (Amy Forsyth)--on their way to a Soldiers of Satan concert (their hit song is played by Mercyful Fate's "Black Funeral," which is the only genuine attempt at establishing any metal cred). They meet three mulleted burnouts in the parking lot--Mark (Keean Johnson), Kovacs (Logan Miller), and Ivan (Austin Swift) and after the show, head to Alexis' house 30 miles away since her dad and stepmom won't be home. That turns out to be a bad move for the dudes, who soon realize they tried to score with the wrong girls when they find themselves drugged, stripped, and tied up in a room filled with Satanic symbols and assorted devilish paraphernalia.





With all the fumbling clumsiness of a 16-year-old losing his virginity, WE SUMMON THE DARKNESS shoots its load way too quickly, starting with the sight of a crazed, grassroots televangelist on a gas station TV when the girls stop for snacks. We know this televangelist must be vital to the story and has to turn up later since he's played by Johnny Knoxville, whose name and visage are prominently displayed on the poster. And once back at the house, the girls reveal their master plan way too quickly, thus killing any element of suspense or surprise in the script by Alan Trezza (the abysmal BURYING THE EX, which also co-starred Daddario). Of course, just as expected, Knoxville does reappear much later and you'll figure out who he is long before the movie thinks you will, just in time for director Marc Meyers (MY FRIEND DAHMER) to stage most of the climax in the new trend of complete and total darkness, thus making the film's title a de facto mission statement. WE SUMMON THE DARKNESS makes some half-assed overtures to metal cred by name-dropping legends like Randy Rhoads and Dio, and having characters argue that Metallica was never the same post-Dave Mustaine, but considering Mustaine was fired after a couple of demos and was gone before the band even recorded their debut album, this sounds like either a) something concocted by a writer who doesn't really know much about Metallica, but is aware that Dave Mustaine was in the band at one time, or b) Dave Mustaine has a secret side gig as a script doctor. The characters are all obnoxious and unlikable, the period detail is nil beyond the mullets and Val's hairspray, and for a heavy metal horror movie, they could've tried to use more appropriate '80s tunes than T'Pau's "Heart and Soul" and a virtually identical remake of "Heaven is a Place on Earth" credited to a group called Cover Sauce, since Belinda Carlisle must be more expensive to license than T'Pau. Nice try, guys. Stick with TRICK OR TREAT, or even BLACK ROSES or the collected works of Jon Mikl Thor. WE SUMMON THE DARKNESS is for poseurs. (R, 91 mins)


1BR
(US - 2020)


For more effective and worthy of your time than WE SUMMON THE DARKNESS is 1BR. An auspicious feature debut for writer/director David Marmor, 1BR will remind you of various movies throughout but it generally remains its own visceral experience that, logic lapses be damned, will have you in a vise-like grip not unlike the one in which its heroine finds herself at her new apartment complex. Running from the Midwest after her mother dies of cancer (and there's some unspoken "issues" with her father that hint at other deep-rooted trauma), aspiring dress designer Sarah (Nicole Brydon Bloom) impulsively moves to L.A. and lucks into a nice apartment at a nice complex in a nice neighborhood with plenty of security cameras on site. The other residents are kind and welcoming, and soft-spoken landlord Jerry (early '90s Whit Stillman regular Taylor Nichols) prides himself on the building's sense of community and getting to know your neighbors. She flirts with guy-next-door Brian (Giles Matthey) and befriends elderly and declining Edith Stanhope (Susan Davis), a long-retired B-movie actress who starred in things like NIGHT OF THE SKULL CREATURE. Her living situation immediately heads south with loud plumbing and persistent clanging in the walls that only happens in the middle of the night. She smuggled her cat into the apartment and gets a nasty note calling her a "selfish bitch" and reminding her that there's no pets allowed. She hears a noise after getting into bed and finds her front door ajar. Things escalate past the point of no return when she's awoken by a smoke alarm and finds her cat baking in the oven.





In case it wasn't already apparent that this is not a good place for Sarah to be, she's then put through a torturous, Gitmo-like "program" by her neighbors that's designed to break her (this also includes the incessant playing of the '60s pop favorite "Happy Heart" at deafening levels). They know all about her. They've cut off all her ties to the outside world--her job, credit cards, her father, her only L.A. friend (Celeste Sully). "We are your family now," Jerry informs her. It really wouldn't be fair to say anything more about the plot or where it goes, but you'll see elements of Roman Polanski's "Apartment Trilogy" of REPULSION, ROSEMARY'S BABY, and THE TENANT, Karyn Kusama's THE INVITATION, and Ari Aster's MIDSOMMAR to name a few, plus there's a definite Synanon and Charles Manson element given the California setting. But Marmor has some tricks up his sleeve, and even after Sarah breaks and gives herself over to her new life, there's a look in her eyes that makes you wonder whether she's really onboard with it or just biding her time. If she isn't, then Sarah has a great poker face with the ways her predicament escalates in wildly unpredictable and frequently mortifying ways that play out like an unsettling, nightmarish version of a cringe comedy (Bloom does a really nice job conveying the way Sarah maintains her composure as she realizes the extent of her situation). One reason it works so well is because you keep waiting for Marmor to drop the ball and he never really does, even with an ending reveal that explains away some logic concerns but also puts the entire thing in a new realm, but even then, it's probably best not to think about it too much. Acquired by Dark Sky Films, 1BR was going straight-to-VOD even if theaters weren't closed due to the pandemic, but it's the kind of intense nailbiter that once upon a time, could've become a word-of-mouth sleeper hit. One interesting note: veteran actress Constance Towers (SHOCK CORRIDOR, THE NAKED KISS), and her late husband, PSYCHO co-star John Gavin (he died in 2018) are thanked in the closing credits. (Unrated, 90 mins)


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