There’s an old saying that you can’t go home again and for the most part it’s true. People are older or not around anymore, personalities have slightly changed and the furniture is different. Then there’s all the personal experiences that have changed you while away. Indeed, home is just a memory, but when you’re called back there, it’s for a reason and you better be ready for it. The filmmaking duo of writer/director Terence Krey and writer/actor Christine Nyland explore this premise with their compelling occult film Summoners.
College student Jess (Nyland) has just returned to her family home where her father (Larry Fessenden) lives alone after her mother died. She’s not sure why she’s there, but she knows there’s something she has to do. A chance encounter with her old friend Alana (McLean Peterson) rekindles their teenage bond, eventually leading back to their old hobby: witchcraft.
Jess has given it up, but Alana still practices and it doesn’t take long before they’re both casting spells in the woods. Eventually, Alana proposes a more serious task. She wants to conjure a sin-eating spirit to help a grieving friend. Their ceremony goes as planned – or does it? The spirit is invoked but too much to handle as they’re both suffering from extreme guilt – Alana from a tragic accident, Jess from her mother – and now they have to figure out how to contain it or be consumed by it.
Essentially, Krey and Nyland have crafted a beautiful buddy film about family, friendship and love. To be clear, this isn’t a jump-scare-fueled exploitation gorefest, rather, it’s a subtle slowburn examining relationship dynamics and the way guilt can tear us apart from the inside out. Most impressively, they’ve intersected several complex characters without getting convoluted. We know these people; we understand their motivations and we feel for them.
Visually, Krey gives us a dreamlike quality befitting the subject matter. Krey’s vision may lack blood, guts and nudity, but he makes up for it with tension, emotion and passion. Interestingly, the film begins a bit awkwardly, like those first few minutes when you haven’t seen someone in years and you’re not sure what to say, but as Jess and Alana’s friendship gets stronger, this awkwardness goes away. Whether this was intentional is unclear, but it definitely adds to the overall feel of the film.
What really makes the film, though, is the cast. Nyland turns in a stellar performance as Jess, but her costars steal the show. Peterson delivers an absolutely heart wrenching depiction of someone completely riddled by guilt. There’s one scene in particular where it all becomes too much for her, and we feel her pain as she lets it out. Fessenden gives an uncharacteristically tender performance as the dad who’s quietly been living with his own pain since his wife passed. He’s so damn good he brings tears to the eyes.
Home may be where the heart is, but what if that heart is broken? Sometimes you have to go back just to mend it and reset the balance. We may not be able to undo our regrettable actions, but we can own up to them and, most importantly, we can let them go, as Christine Nyland and Terence Krey so eloquently hammer home in Summoners. It may not be bloody or even that scary, but it stays with you long after you’ve seen it.
Movie Score: 4/5