Director/Screenplay – Alex Wright, Producers – Chris Webster & Alex Wright, Photography – John Tarver, Music – Norman Orenstein, Visual Effects – Derek Grime, Special Effects Supervisor – Joseph Carter, Makeup Effects – Richard Miranda, Production Design – Gary Kryotor & Six 51 Productions. Production Company – Berkshire Axis Media
Nazneen Contractor (Eva Delgado), Devon Ogden (Sara), Bobby Campo (Joey Polito), Chris Olivero (Marcus)
A group of university friends sneak into the morgue where Marcus works as a security guard intending to shoot a movie. The strongly atheistic Joey has had a bet with Eva, who is a Santeria priestess, that she cannot provide evidence of the existence of spirits. While being filmed by Marcus, they conduct a séance but Joey decries it as fakery and breaks the circle despite Eva’s urgings not to. Eva deduces that Joey is covering up that he has mediumistic abilities too and believes that the spirits are drawn to his cynicism and darkness. She persuades him to return to the circle, only for him to be taken over and possessed by a demonic entity. Imprisoning him, they try to find a way to drive the demon out, as all the while it taunts their psychological weak spots.
Séance: The Summoning is a title I can’t help but think makes me keep thinking of some kind of horror boardgame. The film was made not long after the success enjoyed by James Wan’s Insidious (2010) and has been construed in a similar vein, although it is not long in before the set-up devolves into nothing more than a standard possession and exorcism film.
As the possession and exorcism genre goes, Séance: The Summoning should be complimented for stripping everything down to be played out by only four people (in actuality three, with one of the group being killed off early on). On the other hand, the possession and exorcism film is such a tired kettle of fish that much of the film feels by the numbers. The usual line-up of teen/twentysomething characters promises little. We at least do get one of the group who is a Santeria priestess, which adds something slightly different.
One of the more interesting aspects of the film is a debate that plays throughout about atheism vs belief (in specific, Christian or Catholic belief) with Bobby Campo being written in as someone who has a negative view about the actuality of spiritual phenomena. It may say something about where the film’s sympathies lie in that he promptly becomes the one who gets possessed – it is seen that his scepticism and embittered cynicism equates with a darkness that the spirits are naturally drawn to, making him more susceptible to takeover.
Much of the latter half of the film becomes about Devon Ogden asserting her Christian beliefs and Nazneen Contractor abandoning her beliefs in Santeria and dislike of Catholicism to discover Christian faith so that she can join in and exorcise the demon (which is conducted using no more than a prayer book taken from the morgue’s chapel!). Séance: The Summoning was a routine exorcism film up to that point but the heavy-handed emphasis on faith starts to turn it into more of a Christian message film. In particular, Alex Wright seems very absorbed in the Catholic brand of Christianity – one of the things that Devon Ogden is taunted with by the demon is that she has committed a mortal sin by having an abortion. The end credits even have Alex Wright thanking his fellow churchgoers and priest for their support.
Alex Wright has been directing various thrillers since the 1990s with the likes of Dangerous Waters (1994), Fast Money (1996), The Shipment (2001) and Styx (2001). His most high-profile work was The First 9½ Weeks (1998). Séance: The Summoning has been his only venture into genre material.