'We Summon The Darkness' Review: Alexandra Daddario Leads This Satanic Panic Headbanger [Fantastic Fest 2019]

Alexandra Daddario in a heavy metal horror movie? All those incantations and offerings to our Dark Lord have finally paid off my fellow – er, I mean, how lucky are we! Marc Meyers' satanic panic headbanger flips the script on evil intentions and assembles a kickass girl gang decked out in studded leather. Daddario so often plays the adoring love interest, and I've been yearning to see someone twist her rom-com-ready talents into pitch-black realms. We Summon The Darkness kickstarts Satan's heart in the name of bedeviled slayings, and every actor relishes their wild-child performative opportunities. I think I may have a new favorite Daddario persona.Alexis (Daddario), Val (Maddie Hasson) and Bev (Amy Forsyth) hit the road in pursuit of rock stars "Soldiers of Satan" for a hair-whipping good time. While at the concert, they meet fun-loving boys Mark (Keean Johnson), Kovacs (Logan Miller), and Ivan (Austin Swift), and when the concert ends, Alexis invites everyone to an afterparty at her father's house. That's quite a risk with a recent string of murders in the area tied to hell beast worshippers and Dio lovers, but could either the girls or the guys be responsible for the slasher spree? A game of "Never Have I Ever" might hold all the clues and usher in one hell of a night for these metalhead marks.It's at the height of blasphemous '80s finger-pointing that We Summon The Darkness escalates, which opens the door to a "Christ versus Beelzebub" standoff that's less about basic cult massacres and more about those pulling the strings from above or below. This is a movie in which angels in Mötley Crüe duds spill innocent blood as a means of shouting at the devil. Johnny Knoxville lends his talents as television evangelist Pastor John Henry Butler, in a role that's not of the stuntman's typical "slapstick with a death wish" schtick. The impetus for Alan Trezza's screenplay is inciting mayhem to control paranoid societal narratives: blame games, dirty dealings, and laying it all on the shoulders of guitar-slung legends.You're watching We Summon The Darkness for Daddario and Hasson, the latter keeping stride to an impressive degree. Daddario is permitted to explore performative territory that unlocks a pandora's box of wickedness, as Hasson adds a bit more sexpot attitude to her cherry-red-lipstick charisma. Daddario and Hasson are having *so much* fun, giving each other fanny slaps while reciting Bible verses or giggling as the flames of chaos engulf the damned. Everyone shares party-people chemistry as the night begins, it's just that Daddario and Hasson follow...unique arcs. Daddario is breathing black magic and Hasson delights as a gothic groupie bad girl. Promises fulfilled.Where the film stumbles, by circumstance, is a bit of a heavy male gaze. Dialogue about women wearing makeup as "sexual warpaint" doesn't stick the landing as cleverly as intended, and the cinematography is sure to zoom in on the eroticism exuded by Daddario and Hasson. One of the two is always seen stretching her leather pants as tight as possible, often inorganically (like, that can't be comfortable). There's a direct attempt to flip gender norms in We Summon The Darkness and it does work, largely! Reductionism sets in only for small bursts, like when those very moments meant to provide commentary are reversely exploited.Meyers, director of My Friend Dahmer, keeps violence pointed and piercing despite the film's sometimes-delirious tone. Demonic influences aren't sprinkled, they're grabbed by Lucifer's horns. In a time of unease, especially confined by rural seclusion, there's never a sense of downplaying danger. The "panic" aspect in "Satanic Panic" is on full display, represented by daggers slick with blood or streaks of red across suburban wood paneling, pentagrams and poisoned minds. Stepmothers, police officers, and other unlucky "intruders" complicate an already sticky situation, adding all-so-welcome complications: murder as a justified evil, media hype directed from behind closed doors, and man's worst tendencies conjured from below.If there's one thing "missing," it's a horns-raised charge into "heavy metal horror." Characters "pour one out" for Cliff Burton and talk of Metallica's fame, but there's no Deathgasm symphony of destruction here. We Summon The Darkness left me hungry for a bit more than torn jean jacket vests and miscellaneous band references. Not to besmirch the credibility of anyone involved, but "heavy metal horror" selling point promises certain dedications that are only half-fulfilled. We Summon The Darkness ultimately takes the main stage as a headlining act bathed in tainted blood, light beers, and fangs-out maliciousness. The hard sell of "heavy metal horror" may be a smidge ambitious, but it's rarely an issue. Alexandra Daddario and Maddie Hasson are the Hammett and Hetfield of Marc Meyers' eyeliner ensemble, with looks that kill and attitudes doubly deadly. For that, this critic can downgrade other complaints. It's full of amplified unhallowed fun and fiendish shocks in the name of rock n' roll...or maybe that's just what "The Man" wants you to think./Film Review: 7.5 out of 10