None of these actors, nor Chris Piner’s screenplay, is very successful at making these people or their various interpersonal conflicts much worth caring about. In an unusual move for a found-footage film, though, at least their dialogue is all perfectly audible – it’s as if all four of them never remembered to take off their lav mics, even during otherwise very intimate conversations.
“…takes its otherwise familiar premise into a few interesting and unexpected places, and it boasts a memorable wallop of an ending.”
1st Summoning does have one really compelling character, a shifty pastor played by Jason MacDonald. Initially, the group runs across the ominously named Pastor Youngblood while shooting some B-roll on local history, but soon, they’re sitting down with him for a very uncomfortable interview that touches on Satanic pacts and murdered children. MacDonald’s piercing stares directly into the camera are among the most unsettling things in the movie, and his scenes represent a decent-enough attempt at a Lynchian type of down-home creepiness.
And then, of course, there are those closing sequences, which are surprisingly skillful at making a not-terribly-foreboding industrial setting seem as menacing and inescapable as intended. Some of the usual found-footage complaints do still apply (“Leave the camera behind, stupid!” is the modern-day “Don’t go in the basement!”), but credit the filmmakers for steering clear of wonky special effects and instead sticking to more grounded, tangibly disturbing frights that are much harder to shake. 1st Summoning‘s final act plays like one of the better-quality segments from the V/H/S franchise, and it suggests that this filmmaking team might have been better represented by an all-killer-no-filler short subject rather than a feature.
But, again, at least audiences will find their patience tolerably rewarded with what 1st Summoning ultimately has to offer. Stick with this one long enough, and you’ll likely get what you came for.
1st Summoning (2019) Directed by Raymond Wood. Written by Chris Piner. Starring Teddy Cole, Hayley Lovitt, Brook Todd, Ace Harney, Jason MacDonald
5.5 out of 10