Tag: keean johnson

We Summon the Darkness

We Summon the Darkness (2019)
★ / ★★★★

The stupidity and lack of attention to detail in “We Summon the Darkness” are on full display in one scene. If you have eyes, it is impossible to overlook. In the kitchen, members of a religious cult attempt to smoke out their victims who are hiding in the pantry where light can be seen from under the door. Inside the pantry, we see a young man with a deep cut on his arm bleeding to death while leaning against the door in order to prevent cultists from getting in. A pool of blood collects where he sits. Back to the kitchen: no blood—not even a hint of it—is seeping through from the other side. Not a figure or a shadow can be seen desperately moving about. Eventually the frightened hunted use rags to seal the crevice. Still, light from under the door flows uninterrupted. It is clear that this sequence needed to be reshot and yet director Marc Meyers submitted a work so substandard, it is actually insulting. I’ve seen student films with significantly less budget that are executed and put together better than this scene.

You know when a movie tries so hard to hide its twist that it becomes glaringly obvious what that is mere ten minutes into the picture? Such is the case here. If you have an IQ above 50, it will come to no surprise that Alexis (Alexandra Daddario), Val (Maddie Hasson), and Bev (Amy Forsyth) have a strong connection to the recent killings being covered on the news. Screenwriter Alan Trezza puts all his chips on this so-called left turn that the exposition ends up dragging on for nearly half the picture. It is brazen. But it is also interminable. These young women have nothing interesting to do or say—nor do their prey: three friends, formerly in a band together, attending a heavy metal concert (Keean Johnson, Logan Miller, Austin Swift). Set in 1988, exchanges lean on naming heavy metal bands. If I wanted a list, I’d go on Wikipedia.

And so slashing and killings begin. With the exception of one kill involving fire, the rest is standard violence and gore. Even during its darkly comic moments, I never cracked a single smile or smirk. I did, however, catch my eyes rolling twice or thrice. I asked, “Why are these characters making the worst decisions?” and “Why do they trip so often?” about five times. Each. Its faux edge can be recognized by even the most near-sighted. There is nothing surprising or creative in terms of chases and (finally) going for the jugular. Naturally, a gun must be employed and—surprise, surprise—characters claw and scratch at one another as it is thrown across the room. At this point, there is about thirty minutes yet to be endured.

The material wishes to comment upon religious zealotry. Here, the villains—followers of God—are convinced they must kill and make it look as though satanic cults are responsible. By instilling fear, amplified by the media, the unconverted will feel the need to follow God. (The story takes place in rural Indiana.) On paper, it may sound appealing, but I didn’t find this satiric angle to be fresh in terms of execution. I think it is because the filmmakers fail to balance horror, thriller, and dark comedy so that the elements work in synergy. This is a classic example of how hard it really is to make an effective satire. Sure, there is a message—an obvious one but it’s there. But does it provide insight? The answer is no. Yes, there is a difference.

Performances are all right. Of note, however, are Daddario, who takes on a role that’s different for her, and Johnson, who possesses an interesting face and a gentleness that makes you want to get to know what his character is all about. I liked that Daddario’s Alexis is so over-the-top while Johnson’s Mark is more relaxed. Yet both are equal in energy. I felt as though their take on their characters are just right for the material. But the rest of the work is a miscalculation, a drivel, a death march to the finish line.

Low Tide

Low Tide (2019)
★★ / ★★★★

“Low Tide,” debut film of writer-director Kevin McMullin, brings to mind coming-of-age pictures from the ‘80s, especially in how it captures the look and feel of living in a seaside vacation spot, but it lacks the necessary human depth for it to be truly compelling and memorable. This is particularly strange because the lead actors, Jaeden Martell and Keean Johnson who play brothers, Peter and Alan, left to fend for themselves while their father is away for work, possess the ability to deliver convincing dramatic performances. The screenplay is not written deeply enough in order for these actors to be able to create subjects worthy of further exploration.

It begins as a story of three seemingly close friends (Johnson, Daniel Zolghadri, Alex Neustaedter) who break into people’s vacation homes to steal drugs, booze, and various items they could sell for petty cash. We watch them hang out at the boardwalk, scout for girls, get high, and pick fights with Bennys—a nickname they give to summer tourists. Meanwhile, a local cop, Sergeant Kent (Shea Whigham), suspects them as the ones responsible for the recent break-ins. He did not have a single evidence… until one of the teenagers ends up leaving a shoe at a crime scene. The boys’ relationship is tested and at one point we are meant to.wonder whether what they shared was friendship at all. Perhaps it simply a case of birds of a feather.

The plot also involves finding a dead man’s gold coins, but I think this is less interesting than the relationship between two brothers who look, sound, and act so differently when placed side-by-side, it takes a bit of persuasion to buy into the fact they are related at all. These highly valued coins is but a conduit to Peter and Alan coming together and admitting to one another that they are tired of being poor. And so their most recent asset must be protected at all cost. It is disappointing then that the writing fails to establish their desperation—how much each of them is willing to sacrifice—out of fear that one or both may come across as too unlikable.

There is sweet subplot involving Alan and an out-of-towner named Mary (Kristine Froseth). Although the cuteness of their chance meeting and going out on dates does not quite fit the overall foreboding feeling of the picture, I still found some enjoyment in these detours. I would have preferred for their conversations to have run longer since Alan is not a character who makes it a habit to talk about his personal life and the future with his so-called friends. It helps that Johnson and Froseth exhibit effortless chemistry when sharing a frame.

The picture may be low on thrills, but it is not short on consequences. It is not a clear-cut case of bad guys being punished and good guys prevailing. We get the impression that the brothers have learned something about themselves, about each other, and the world around them—expected from a coming-of-age film. Although the work left me wanting more depth, I am optimistic that McMullin can deliver stronger, more urgent content in future projects.