The term ‘Arthouse horror’ gets thrown around a lot these days. At times, it’s used to merely market a film that doesn’t fit squarely into a box. When used right, it means a film, considered a ‘genre’ film as far as the market goes, that’s so good it shouldn’t be ranked alongside the oodles of forgettable slasher and high-concept C-horror films that flood the iTunes charts. We’ve been spoilt by many ‘Arthouse horror’ films in recent years, too – films like It Follows, Midsommar, The Lighthouse, Kill List, The Empty Man, The Witch, and Men, immediately coming to mind.
What those films and director Jon Garcia’s latest film have in common is, at its core, it’s modestly-budgeted independent roots. Knowing he doesn’t have the resources, let alone star power of a studio tent-pole, the Oregon-based filmmaker – largely known for his work on LGBTQ fare like Luz and Sex Weather – has put character, story, and effective pacing before any effect or money shot.. because he knew he won’t have those. And like Art Arister, Robert Eggers, David Robert Mitchell, and Scott Derrickson before him, Summoning the Spirit might just be the one that ports him from the unknown leagues to in-demand territory.
Capturing the beautiful Portland terrain, with it’s lingeringly stunning Oaks and ghostly, majestic dark green nooks, Spirit combines the classic Bigfoot horror template (it’s closet cousin may be Joy N. Houck Jr.’s ’70s sasquatch pic Creature from the Black Lake) with that of a slow-building psychological ticker. It’s ‘The Abominable Midsommar’, if you will.
Krystal Millie Valdes and Ernesto Reyes give finely tuned performances as a couple,Carla and Dean, who opt for a permanent change of atmosphere. Leaving behind the big city for nature, they make home in the remote forest. A clear sign that reading reviews on Priceline’s app is always advised before headed to an area you’re not familiar with, they discover – just as our couple did in the equally eerie Midsommar before them – they’re in ‘cult’ territory. A clever touch by Garcia and co-writer Zach Carter, this cult has ties to the mythical creature of the forest, the Sasquatch.
Equipped with stunning cinematography by Kevin Forrest, beautifully encapsulating the fabled energy of Portland’s forest, Summoning the Spirit flies the flag for Portland tourism as much as it does for classy, cheaper genre films too.
While it won’t work on audiences that consider Cocaine Bear the cream of the crop of horror, Garcia’s short and slower moody monster movie will work on audiences who are chasing something more masterfully handled and compelling. This is arthouse horror – and arthouse horror done right.