Cresten (Jason Douglas) is an unhinged real estate agent, annoyed with his co-worker Andrea (Abbey Siegworth) and fearful that he may be losing his mind, particularly after seeing a strange bright light and hearing a disembodied voice talk to him about his purpose. And it’d be one thing if Cresten was the only one seeing and hearing things, but as Detective Malcolm (Benjamin J. Cain Jr.) has found out, the “hallucinations” are a common experience shared by people who have committed horrific acts of violence. Is Cresten going nuts, has his true purpose been revealed, and what does that mean for those around him?
Jeremy Bartel’s Summons is a stylistically strong creepfest. At first you’re just put-off by Cresten, who, voice and strange light notwithstanding, gives the impression that he’s not altogether the type of person you want to be hanging around anyway. When the narrative ups the stakes by showing what these oddly afflicted characters might be capable of doing, Cresten becomes a time bomb that we always knew was a time bomb, but is very actively ticking now.
It’s a suspenseful experience, full of mystery as we try to figure out exactly what is going on. Even developments in the climax are only a hint at a theory behind the strangeness and brutality, so ambiguity reigns as the order of the day. I don’t know that an answer even exists in the film, though it might, and I’m open to any arguments or theories to be had there.
Because you could easily wind yourself up over the layers of this one that may or may not exist. Why focus on a real estate office? How does that occupation tie into Cresten’s speech at the end? What about how the office is presented, easily the most unnatural and artificial aspect of the entire film; how does that relate? There might be nothing there to explore, but that doesn’t mean you can’t try looking.
As I just mentioned, visually, the film goes with an artificial out-of-time aesthetic for the real estate office that works to make elements there appear otherworldly. From the usage of old phones to the wallpaper to the lighting to the choice of colors, everything feels lifted out of another time and place, out of sync with the harsh, often desaturated realities playing out around it. It’s a memorable visual touch that keeps things just as “off” for the eye as the narrative does for the brain.
In the end, Summons is an exceptional short film. I might’ve preferred that the ending not be as abrupt as it winds up being, but I’d be lying if the general sense of unease and mystery doesn’t warrant such a disconcerting filmmaking choice. And someone needs to put Jason Douglas and Michael Shannon in a flick about intense, emotionally disturbed brothers, because the physical similarities are astoundingly upsetting.
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