Summoning the Spirit opens on an odd note as a couple of would be pyromaniacs get attacked and beaten unconscious not by pissed off park rangers but by some oddly dressed cultists. When they come to it’s just in time to be finished off, not by the cultists, but by Bigfoot (Sean Sisson, Déjà Vu: A Film in One Shot, Clementine).
It’s In these same woods that Carla (Krystal Millie Valdes, Three Bedrooms, Amigo) and Dean (Ernesto Reyes, With Elizabeth in Mount Dora, Luz) buy a house to get away from the city and start a family. Unfortunately, Carla miscarries putting both of them in an emotionally bad place.
And, as is often the case with emotionally despondent people, they attract the attention of The Mountain People a local cult that claims to have a bond with a large hairy creature that lives in the woods. Carla hits it off with Celeste (Isabelle Muthiah, Caroline) and becomes drawn to the group and their beliefs. Dean on the other hand has an opposite reaction to their Messianic leader Arlo (Jesse Tayeh, DC Down, Fighting Olympus) creating more division between the couple.
Director Jon Garcia (Strictly for the Birds, The Falls: Covenant of Grace) and co-writer Zach Carter (The Unquenchable Thirst for Beau Nerjoose, Spunk’s Not Dead) take Summoning the Spirit in quite a different direction than the opening might have you expect. Bigfoot never entirely leaves the film, but he does get pushed to the background for a while as the script concentrates on its human characters.
Summoning the Spirit focuses on Dean and Carla’s faltering relationship and their interaction with the cult as Carla becomes more drawn to it. The cult itself seems on its face to be some sort of New Age back to nature band of leftover hippies and the film starts to take on a kind of Midsommar feel, Midsommar with a Sasquatch that is.
The film wants you to take sides both between Dean and Carla and in some of The Mountain People’s internal issues as well. As much as you’re not supposed to like Dean I found myself agreeing with him on an important issue, the cult should be avoided, and that’s even before we find out what they’ve been hiding. I also can’t blame him when he finally punches Arlo, I’d have put the boot in till he couldn’t get up.
Through all of this, Sasquatch doesn’t entirely vanish but he doesn’t do much more than stand around watching everyone. Granted he does finally do some damage in the film’s final minutes, but if you’re watching based on the poster, you’re probably going to be disappointed. Considering Dark Star Pictures releases plenty of non-genre films as well as horror, I would have expected them to have handled the marketing a bit better.
If you’re looking for a more elevated, A24 kind of film then you’ll probably have a much better time with Summoning the Spirit. It’s heavy on the drama and does more to deliver a sense of unease than outright scares for most of its running time. The film’s final scene and footage that plays behind the end credits however may have you unintentionally laughing or rolling your eyes however.
I found Summoning the Spirit to be a mostly interesting variation on the Sasquatch film even if it does run a bit slow at times. If you don’t mind the lack of overt horror and the mostly passive creature it’s worth a watch, I mean how often do we see a folk horror Bigfoot film?
Dark Star Pictures release Summoning the Spirit to Digital Platforms and on DVD today, August 8th.