Jon Garcia’s “Summoning the Spirit” is something special. In the horror genre, movies about a monstrous Bigfoot exist as the smallest of sub-genres. In truth, there are only two good ones; Charles B. Pierce’s 1972 cult hit “The Legend of Boggy Creek” and Eduardo Sanchez’s creepy and under-seen “Exists” from 2014.
As Garcia’s film steps into the Bigfoot movie ring armed with originality and a beating heart, originality, now there are three.
Carla (Krystal Millie Valdes) and Dean (Ernesto Reyes) are a young Latino couple trying to begin again and heal after the tragic loss of their unborn child. Dean is a struggling writer whose first novel didn’t set the world on fire. Carla is a therapist. Both are broken souls and have moved to the nature of Oregon to work through their personal pains, seeking the serenity of the woods-surrounded house they purchased.
What they find is a strange cult led by its charismatic leader Arlo, played by Jesse Tayeh. The cult members welcome the couple with peaceful smiles and neighborly love. As studied fan of horror knows, people such as this hide something sinister behind their peaceful demeanors.
Dean doesn’t take to his new neighbors, but Carla becomes quite enamored with an unrelentingly positive ray of sunshine hippie-chick Celeste (Isabelle Muthiah). It soon becomes clear how the cult worships a creature that lives in the woods. As the layers unravel, perhaps their ultimate intentions aren’t as menacing as they seem.
Director Garcia co-wrote the script with Zach Carter, giving the Bigfoot myth a distinctive spin. Rather than having the creature exist as some sort of ancient beast, “Summoning the Spirit” presents it as something more metaphysical, perhaps even spiritual. In a film featuring a Bigfoot, the themes Garcia takes on are surprisingly effective.
There is the examination of grief and how it colors one’s future, reflected in the relationship between Dean and Carla. The existence of the cult and their unquestioning following of their leader speaks volumes about the dangers of blind faith, especially during the picture’s final act. To quote Bruce Springsteen, “Blind faith in your leaders, or in anything, will get you killed.” Remember, there is a monster in this movie.
Most surprising is the screenplay’s quite moving maternal subtext. Carla is the physical and emotional representation of the undying bond of the soul that exists between a mother and her child. Making the film even more unique is how the screenplay sees a mother’s nurturing spirit as connected to the rhythms of nature. In this horror film that is so much more than its moniker, Mankind, Beast, and Earth become one. The picture’s final shot is moving in ways the audience will not expect.
Jon Garcia has crafted a wonderfully strange and intoxicating hybrid of Folk Horror, monster movie, and Indie relationship study. The filmmaker skillfully weaves it all together. The monster moments and scenes with the cult give horror fans their expected visceral thrills while the film’s emotional arc hits with a startling potency.
“Summoning the Spirit” is one of the most welcome surprises of 2023.
Summoning the Spirit
Written by Zach Carter & Jon Garcia
Directed by Jon Garcia
Starring Kristal Millie Valdes, Ernesto Reyes, Jesse Tayeh, Isabelle Muthiah
NR, 97 Minutes, Lake productions/Dark Star Pictures