‘Summoning the Spirit’ Chattanooga Film Festival 2023 Review: A Weird Yet Oddly Beautiful Bigfoot Movie

There aren’t a lot of solid entries in the Bigfoot subgenre. The Legend of Boggy Creek and Willow Creek come to mind. While director Jon Garcia’s Summoning the Spirit doesn’t come close to reaching the level of those films, it does offer an intriguing addition to the hairy subgenre.

Written by Garcia and Zach Carter, Summoning the Spirit summons couple Carla (Krystal Millie Valdes) and Dean (Ernesto Reyes) out of the city and to a remote home in the forest. There, they learn of a local legend dubbed “The Spirit” which roams the woods, and of the creepy commune that worships it nearby. After Carla miscarries, the happy couple begins to slip into depression, making them prime recruits for their neighbors, who may or may not have sinister intentions.

Right away, there’s a certain absurdity to Summoning the Spirit that makes an otherwise somber film difficult to take seriously. The first scene introduces us to two people attempting to start a forest fire, because it’s fire season and they need a fire to fight, damn it! Just move to California. We have plenty! It’s a little odd, to say the least, but nothing compared to various moments of serenity in which the camera follows behind the bigfoot creature/guy in a Halloween store costume strolling through the woods, minding his own business. I wouldn’t blame anyone for giggling at these bits which are meant to imply a peacefulness to the Spirit, but feel more like a Sasquatch dating video.

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Give the film a little patience though, and there’s a strangely beautiful story within Summoning the Spirit.

True to the title, the filmmakers inject an overwhelming spirituality that flows through the film and over your senses. It’s in the lush cinematography. The melodic score. The soft sounds of nature that fill the background. Summoning the Spirit goes heavy on the theme of leaving behind social constructs and inhibitions, all of your worries and stresses, and embracing the primal nature buried deep within. When Carla and Dean say they want to live in a place they can start some new roots, they don’t realize how literal that could become for them. As the viewer, you might not realize how relaxing or hypnotic the overall calmness of the movie is until you step back and recognize how frightening it is that you’ve been sucked into the commune’s beliefs.

That’s generally how it goes with cults. On the surface, the idea of inner peace and all that junk doesn’t sound so bad. Then the creepiness of it starts to set in. The commune’s leader, Arlo (Jesse Tayeh), comes off as the kind of guy who would die if he wasn’t smiling. Tayeh projects a perfect balance of welcoming and mystery that makes you (and our lead couple) wary of Arlo’s too-nice approach. Maybe it’s the social anxiety in me, but moments like each member of the group greeting Carla and Dean with “I love you” had me sinking into my seat. If I were them, I’d sprint away so fast I’d leave a cartoonish cloud of dust in my shape behind. This is where the true horror of Summoning the Spirit lies: the manipulation of others through kindness.

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Aside from Carla’s depression over her miscarriage and Dean’s fear that he has nothing to say as a writer, we learn that each member of the commune is dealing with some sort of internal suffering, whether it be a disease or some other intangible thing. Valdes exhibits such warmth and heart-breaking agony, that even though you want to scream at her for getting closer to the commune, her curiosity is understandable. We can’t blame her for searching for an end to her pain, no matter how right or wrong the path ahead looks. Not to mention, Valdes is a wonderful actress who commands attention in every scene. I hope we see a lot more of her in horror. Her performance is so compelling that it’s easy (and scary) to put yourself in her shoes and wonder how you might fall into the grasp of Arlo’s commune under similar circumstances.

Underneath the awkward interactions with the commune is a strong theme commenting on the manipulative and selfish ways of men. Tension forms between Carla and Dean when, in typical fashion to these sorts of movies, he makes the loss of their baby about him. Arlo uses it to get closer to Carla. In a sense, they are the monsters of the movie, not the scruffy beast roaming the woods. So, if you’re watching to see Bigfoot tear it up, sorry, it’s not that kind of film (though you won’t walk away completely disappointed).

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In Summoning the Spirit, Bigfoot is presented more like the kind of guy you might want to bring home if he wasn’t a towering monster. He likes long walks through the woods. Watching people from the trees. And occasionally mutilating jerks who hurt the forest. Rather than a monster movie, think of Summoning the Spirit as a much less intense Midsommar with a Bigfoot. It may not scare you, but it’s certainly discomforting.

A slow burn that’s light on horror and more about odd vibes, Summoning the Spirit is a strange yet beautiful film about opening yourself up to your true nature. Unintentionally silly and convoluted at times, it won’t be for everyone, but those seeking something a little different in the Bigfoot genre may enjoy communing with this Spirit.



It won’t be for everyone, but those seeking something a little different in the Bigfoot genre may enjoy communing with this Spirit.


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