*Significant spoilers below*
It’s March. It’s 2021. In a nightmarish year (that does have some glimmers of hope ahead), what else are we going to do on the Collab but dive into horror? October is much too far away for us to wait, so be prepared this month for some creepy isolated houses, plenty of gore, and…hairspray I guess?
We Summon the Darkness
Despite the dangers of an at-large Satanic cult lurking in rural Indiana, three young women invite a group of boys back to their isolated cabin following a 1980s metal concert.
In 1980s Indiana, metalheads Alexis, Val, and Beverly are off to a concert they’ve been eagerly anticipating for weeks. The girls seem to be thrilled not only for the evening out, but also for the freedom of driving along for miles, stopping for emergency supplies as needed (i.e. Hostess snacks), and teasing out their ’80s hair to new heights.
Along the way, the girls receive a cryptic warning from a gas station attendant, who cautions them about the existence of evil. He’s not entirely off-base here; there have been a series of Satanic ritual murders across the state lately, with the perps still at large. Standing in opposition to Satanism/the moral decline of the nation is fear-mongering pastor John Henry Butler, your standard Mike Pence clone.
It also becomes increasingly clear that the friendship between our leading ladies isn’t all it’s cracked up to be; leader Alexis and flirty Val quite often take sides against “the quiet one,” Bev. I’m guessing that’s not going to create any further tension later.
Despite all of this, things are going quite swimmingly until an ’80s stoner van passes our main trio on the highway, tossing a brown liquid from the window, which temporarily obstructs driver Alexis’ view. Stopping by the side of the road to assess the damage, Alexis discovers the liquid is only a chocolate milkshake; however, it’s enough to draw her ire.
Arriving at the concert at last, the girl gang spots none other than the van involved with the milkshake incident. Deciding to pull a prank on the group inside the van, Val lights a firecracker and tosses it inside. As three guys scramble out in a panic, their mood shifts from irritated to apologetic when they realize how they have wronged fellow metalheads with impressively styled ’80s hair. Bev in particular bonds with mulleted Mark, the drummer in the dudes’ band (because of course they’re in a band).
Following the high of the concert, Alexis impulsively invites the guys to join the girls at her father’s isolated cabin in the woods. And by cabin, she actually means mansion. As everyone settles down outside the massive house with a red Solo cup in hand, Bev seems to get the jitters after discovering a switchblade in Mark’s jacket. When Alexis reassures Bev that they are sisters and will be okay, the two rejoin the party for a round of “Never Have I Ever.” The festivities take a dark turn when, after Alexis claims she has never drugged anyone’s drink, all three girls take a sip. Y I K E S. One by one, the three guys lose consciousness as they realize they, in fact, have been drugged.
When the boys are awakened, they are tied in a room marked with Satanic symbols. Are their abductors members of the Satanic cult committing murders throughout the Indiana countryside? Disappointingly, no.
As it turns out, Alexis is the daughter of the Reverend Butler, who leads the religious cult Daughters of the Dawn. The followers of this cult have been responsible for all of the recent Satanic murders, operating on a rotating schedule for homicide duty. This convoluted plan is all in service of driving the unsuspecting public to the comforting embrace of a religious cult when faced with the evils of Satanism. As Alexis remarks using eerily Trumpian rhetoric, “It doesn’t matter if it’s true; it only matters if people believe it.”
Of course, the plan doesn’t go entirely as expected when two of the dudes manage to escape. Meanwhile, Bev, still new to the cult lifestyle, has an increasing number of doubts about her commitment to highly illegal and immoral activities in the name of God. Things only get more complicated when Alexis’ stepmother unexpectedly arrives home, and the girls must cover their tracks while simultaneously coming up with creatively homicidal uses for hairspray.
Who will survive when the lights go out, “Heaven Is a Place on Earth” cranks out on the stereo, and a certain religious cult leader returns home?
3/5 Pink Panther Heads
I won’t deny there’s a lot to enjoy about this film’s setup. The ’80s metal looks are excellent, and I particularly relish all of the big (or crimped or mulleted) hair on display–and we’ve got some suitably evocative tunes to transport us. I’m here for a girl gang, especially if their bond is so strong they’ll be killing together in the name of Satan.
However, the number of twists just for the sake of having a twist is insufferable. Most importantly, I personally do not forgive this film for promising Satanic murder cults and then not delivering. The supposed big reveal is almost immediately taken away from us for the less intriguing/believable social commentary of religious extremists representing the true danger to our society. No arguments here, but…Satanic cults. Why give up that plot element for a religious cult?
On top of this, the major twist is not thought through. The film does give us a hint that the girls are not who they appear as Alexis struggles to remember the details of her first concert or identify basically any pop culture figures. However, beyond this, the film just demonstrates how poorly planned the cult’s actions are. One: rotating responsibilities for carrying out a series of executions is a recipe for disaster. More people committing murder for the first time = more people making amateurish mistakes. And, considering that part of the plan means giving repressed teen girls (young women? I don’t know how old these characters are supposed to be, honestly) a taste of freedom, it’s a wonder there are any members of the cult left.
There are also a series of confusing contradictions in the murder plan; first, Alexis claims the ritual will look like the work of a Satanic cult. Then, she tries to set up the boys’ deaths as a murder/suicide. Pick ONE. It also makes zero sense that the girls seem to impulsively choose their victims while at the concert. I’m not speaking from experience here, but it strikes me that the victims of your staged murder should be picked out well in advance. And there’s absolutely no reason they need to be metalheads; it’s stated quite clearly that the murders have nothing to do with their victims’ connection to the so-called music of Satan.
As if all this weren’t bad enough, the story ultimately undermines the characters’ agency and shows that their sisterhood is cheap. A group of teen girls committing Satanic murders is maybe not the most original premise for a film, but it’s one I would likely have enjoyed so much more than this. In the end, the girls are merely brainwashed to carry out someone else’s plan, which is deeply unsatisfying. Can women not even have a Satanic murder club without it being all about men???
Speaking of which, I really hated the end, and the degree to which Bev and Mark seemed to have some stupid unspoken connection. Bev was cool AF and the one I related to most with her constant snacking, but, in Mark’s position, I still wouldn’t trust her even a little bit. After Bev drugs him, plans his death, and is complicit in his friend’s murder, Mark is much too willing to believe her sudden change of heart and trust she will help him.
I did have fun watching this one, but I experienced a lot of frustrations along the way.