Things are always going to get slightly messy on a couple’s self-help retreat – secrets, deception and resentment are just some of things that are bound to be brought up. Some people may attend and lose a marriage, but no one expects to lose their life, unless you attend the self-help retreat depicted in The Summoned.

Elijah (J. Quinton Johnson) – a struggling musician turned mechanic – and his girlfriend Lyn (Emma Fitzpatrick) – a rock star working on her third album – are ‘summoned’ to an exclusive and secretive self-help retreat at the Staufen House. Elijah seems cautious about the clandestine invitation, but tries to get into the spirit of the retreat. He even remarks that the pair are there to ‘work on some of our stuff.’ Once at the retreat they meet two other guests, entrepreneur Joe (Salvador Chacon) and actress Tara (Angela Gulner), who are both going through a divorce – from each other. Elijah is the only one in the group who doesn’t have fame, wealth or success on his terms, and he is semi-forced into fawning over the achievements of his fellow guests.

The enigmatic Doctor Justus Frost (Frederick Stuart) – the person who summoned the group - finally introduces himself and seemingly discusses the hedonistic pleasures of lust, wants and desires and how their lives will be transformed during their stay. The group is separated and stays in individual rooms. Once settled, Elijah starts to experience hallucinations that show that Frost and the treatment the group are about to undergo may be a lot more intrusive.

The Summoned shares too many similarities with Jordan Peele’s Get Out - a secluded and rural country house, the male lead slipping between realty and a dream-like state and the reveal of the real reason why the group have been summoned to the retreat. Unfortunately, The Summoned doesn’t quite hit those tense and uncomfortable notes that Get Out achieved so well.

The standout performance is from Angela Gulner, who portrays the drug and alcohol-addicted Tara. Gulner’s portrayal of Tara sees her do a complete 360 – she goes from an attention-seeking and fame-hungry actress to a manipulative but seemingly vulnerable flirt. The performance crescendos with her being completely unhinged with an axe in the woods. There is also an honorable mention for Frederick Stuart’s flamboyant portrayal of Dr Justus Frost, and at times it appears that Stuart is trying to channel Gary Oldman, as well as the Devil. Elijah’s transformation from a reserved and ‘moral’ soul to a corrupted ‘sinner’ is done very well. All manipulate and flirt in various ways to break him.

The Summoned tries hard to build up tension in the first hour, placing clues and hints that point to the real reason that the group are at the retreat. This, combined with the setting of a secluded location, the mistrust that is created between the other characters and the dream-like sequences, do create a sense of intrigue. However, there are too many reveals, twists and double-crosses in the final act that over-complicate the story. The score is good and uses a range of themes; however, it is present too much throughout the movie and doesn’t have the desired impact when used during scenes that try to ramp up the suspense. There are a lot of good elements and ideas explored throughout the film, but these seem to get lost in a very hectic final 20 minutes.

Movie Score: 2.5/5

  • James Doherty
    About the Author - James Doherty

    James is a life-long horror fan since coming across Halloween on late-night TV, when he was 9 years-old. He was too scared to watch it all the way through, so when things got too scary he changed the channel. When he worked up the courage he would switch back to Halloween. This happened several times. He has previously written for GoreZone magazine in the UK and the Evolution of Horror.