Summoners (2022)

Summoners had its world première at Brooklyn Horror Film Festival  

“Just feeling nostalgic,” Jess Whitman (Christine Nyland) tells a librarian (Margaret Reed), explaining why she is sat on the library floor rereading an old book. Nostalgia is key to Terence Krey’s Summoners, co-written and co-produced with Nyland, in which Jess returns for the first time in ten years to her small-town home, reconnects with her widowed father Doug (Larry Fessenden) and hooks up with high-school best friend Alana Wheeler (McLean Peterson). Jess was the one who got away, who went up to big-city Boston on a scholarship, and just stayed there, gravitating to working in an archive (truly a calling for nostalgists), and leaving her old life and its unaddressed issues behind her. Alana, on the other hand, has never moved on, and we know from the opening scene – which shows her sitting on the floor of a house, bleeding from the wrist – that she is not happy, and needs help. Which is why she has, in her own way, summoned her BFF to return.

“Can you honestly tell me that anything in your life makes you feel half as alive as you did when you were 16?”, Alana will ask Jess. Alana’s nostalgia – her desire to seek refuge in an idealised adolescence from the gravity of being a grown-up – will also involve a reversion to the worlds of Andrew Fleming’s The Craft (1996), Griffin Dunne’s Practical Magic (1998) and television’s Charmed (1998-2006). For as teens, Jess and Alana used to practise witchcraft together, in their own two-person coven. Alana has never given up on it, while Jess has long since regarded it as a childhood thing to be put away. 

“It isn’t real. I mean, it’s beautiful but it’s an illusion,” Jess tells Alana of their witchcraft, to which Alana will respond: “And what’s wrong with an illusion?” Indeed, as the two old friends agree to perform a ritual together which they hope will dispel the trauma surrounding a young local child’s accidental death, the ‘sin eater’ that they raise – an ancient female creature, midway between messiah and scapegoat, who shoulders the world’s wrongs and suffers immensely for it – may just be an illusion, but she nonetheless serves as a potent metaphor for these characters’ struggles with their own guilt, anger, deep pain and repressed emotions. So while the horror in Summoners comes in a decidedly low key, this is not merely a reflection of the filmmakers’ budget, but a way of conveying the everyday miracle in our efforts to work through unresolved feelings, to find forgiveness and to make personal sacrifices in the name of redemption.

“Things hurt. Life hurts. You can’t just magic it away,” Jess tells Alana – but in the end, sisterhood itself will prove the best way to share the burden of agony, sorrow and nostalgia’s evil twin, regret.  

Strap: In Terence Krey’s small-town supernatural psychodrama, two best friends resort to adolescent witchery to confront their demons

© Anton Bitel