Miami Film Festival 2023: Summoning the Spirit Movie Review

Summoning the Spirit

Dark Star Pictures

Reviewed for by Karen Benardello

Directed by: Jon Garcia

Writer: Garcia and Zach Carter

Cast: Krystal Millie Valdes, Ernesto Reyes, Jesse Tayeh and Isabelle Muthiah

Opens: Monday, March 6, 2023 (World Premiere at Miami Film Festival)

Screened at: Critics Screening Link, 3/5/23

Delving into the true nature of a person’s – or entity’s – motivations and emotions can be an equally liberating and poignant process for everyone in their lives. That’s certainly the case for the married protagonists, the mysterious members and leader of the cult on their new neighboring property, and the titular spirt the groups devotes their lives to in the new horror film, ‘Summoning the Spirit.’

The cult members are also connected to a legendary flesh-eating beast that lives deep in the woods surrounding them. But it isn’t until the group members and their new neighbors interact with the physically daunting mythical creature that they realize how truly connected they are with not only the people and nature around them, but also themselves.

‘Summoning the Spirit’ was written by Jon Garcia and Zach Carter.  The Emmy-nominated Garcia also directed and produced the feature, which marks his first foray into genre filmmaking, after working on such romantic dramas as 2020’s ‘Luz’ and 2012’s ‘The Falls.’

Dark Star Pictures held ‘Summoning the Spirit’s world premiere tonight at the Miami Film Festival. The distributor is set to nationally release the movie later this year.

‘Summoning the Spirit’ follows married Carla (Krystal Millie Valdes) and Dean (Ernesto Reyes) as they decide to escape the hustle of the big city. As they prepare to start a family together, the spouses purchase a home in a remote forest. They have big plans for their new quiet life, but soon only find something much more sinister.

The couple quickly realize that they’re on the land of a cult. Its leader, Arlo (Jesse Tayeh), claims to have a telepathic connection to a legendary Sasquatch, a flesh-eating beast, deep in the woods surrounding them. Carla and Dean are forced to uncover the terrifying truth of the cult’s prophecy before their lives are put into danger.

The drama thrives on the ensemble cast’s enthralling, passionate connections to not only their characters, but also each other, as Carla and Dean relatably try to navigate to their new surroundings. The spouses are emotionally struggling to find their places in the world again after they suffer a devastating personal loss and are struggling to achieve their career goals. So they initially seek comfort in each other in their new seemingly serene environment, before realizing what dangers truly lie within it. Valdes and Reyes infused their characters with a shared sense of hope when they first arrive at their new home in the woods, but their seemingly close bond quickly suffers after meeting Arlo and his followers.

Reyes and Tayeh effortlessly highlight how Dean’s big city views and appreciation of established, modern academia instantly clash with Arlo’s free-spirit and laid-back nature. While the two male characters superficially have nothing in common, their respective actors powerfully showcase how they ultimately begin to resent each other because they recognize how similar they are in certain respects. They’re both so self-serving that they often resort to manipulating the people they claim to love in order to achieve their own personal goals.

Dean always wants to appear as though he’s being supportive of his wife’s emotions and decisions. But Reyes expertly plays him to quickly becomes jealous when she rebukes his instant dismissal of the cult’s beliefs and its members, especially the first participant she meets and connects with, Celeste (Isabelle Muthiah). Tayeh, meanwhile, claims to care about the well-being of his fellow cult members, but only manipulates their loyalty to him to validate his superiority complex.

While the two actors are compelling in their respective roles, Valdes and Muthiah ultimately prove to be the true break-out stars of ‘Summoning the Spirit.’ The two actresses highlight how Carla and Celeste want to be embraced and appreciated for their true selves in their relationships with the men in their lives. Valdes captivatingly presents Carla as being resentful that her husband doesn’t support her decision to explore life within the cult with their new neighbors, as he’s too focused on advancing his writing career.

Muthiah, meanwhile, effortlessly shows how Celeste is Arlo’s biggest supporter, and even gives up her personal freedom to be with and serve him. But as she starts to see his disregard of Carla, who she feels an instant connect with, the actress leads Celeste through an empowering transformation that solidifies her independence and self of sense.

‘Summoning the Spirit’ is a captivating, tantalizing creature feature that thrives on exploring the horrific consequences that a mythical being like a sasquatch can have on mankind after humanity shows it total disregard. Reyes and Tayeh showcase how Dean and Arlo’s equally harmful self-serving actions, which they express in distinctly different ways, drive the increasing tense conflict throughout the movie. Valdes and Muthiah also gave star-making performances as Carla and Celeste, two strong-willed, independent women who are determined to be taken seriously by the men in their lives.

Overall, Garcia made a socially conscious creature feature that proves that the horror genre doesn’t need to solely rely on jump scares and visual effects to heighten the characters’ – and viewers’- emotions. Instead, ‘Summoning the Spirit’ embraces the characters’ realistic sentiments about and reactions to the people in their lives only focusing on what they personally need to do in order to thrive.

96 minutes

Story: B

Acting: B

Technical: B+

Overall: B

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