The Summoned is well-made but by-the-numbers horror fare that relies on well-worn genre tropes — the isolated location, the mysterious and most likely malevolent host, the creepy stranger who holds all the secrets, the foreboding dreams, the token black guy — but for once, the black guy here is no token. He’s the lead, the hero, the pre-tax evasion Wesley Snipes.
That guy is Elijah (J. Quinton Johnson), the boyfriend of pop star Joslyn “Lyn” Rose (Emma Fitzpatrick) who accompanies her on a three-day retreat at a remote estate run by renowned therapist Dr. Justus Frost (Frederick Stuart) to “discover how the false truths of our lives inhibit the path to true transformation and reach your full potential.” When they arrive, they discover the other participants are a famous actress, Tara (Frederick Stuart), and her equally well-known ex-husband Joe (Salvador Chacon), whom a star-struck Elijah describes as “a real-life Iron Man.” Their presence makes mechanic Elijah feel all the more insecure about his lack of fame and success…and money…and power…and a haircut from this century.
Over the course of the three days, Frost disseminates generic self-help advice about seizing the day and acknowledging one’s shortcomings, which the good-natured (and frankly, a bit dense) Elijah takes to heart. At the same time, Elijah finds himself tempted by the other guests’ business offers and lustful attention, and he’s haunted by nightmares about death surrounding Frost and his secluded estate. It’s enough to make a black guy die first. But Summoned isn’t that type of party. Elijah doesn’t go out so easily, even as he finds himself the central figure in a generation-spanning mystery that paints a target squarely on his back. It’s up to him to figure out a way to survive the ordeal in order to avoid a hellish fate worse that what the IRS had in store for Wesley Snipes.
Apart from the race of the protagonist (which is never acknowledged in the film), the script for Summoned brings little new to the table. It hits familiar genre beats throughout as we stick around mostly to uncover the exact nature of the mystery, which turns out neither as twisty nor as innovative as we’d hoped. It’s an easy, breezy watch, but the banality of the details could have been tempered by more shocking and horrific events along the way. As it is, we just get a few tepid dreams and some attempted seductions. First-time director Mark Meir does pepper in some striking visuals, though, and he’s able to make good use of the scenic locale, but it’s not enough to liven up the pedestrian plot. The cast — specifically the likable Johnson, who plays the only sympathetic character here, a black guy who refreshingly isn’t pigeonholed into a typical race-based “type” — helps keep viewers invested, even if Elijah is prone to some bubbleheaded decisions…much like Wesley Snipes.