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Though short on scares, “Summoning Sylvia” is an inclusive, hilarious, feel-good romp that’s almost impossible not to be charmed by.

Streaming is a blessing; streaming is a curse.

If 15-year-old Kelly, staring wide-eyed and slack-jawed at the rows of horror movies in her local West Coast Video, knew that someday she’d have to attempt to pick a needle out of an even larger haystack, she would immediately go into an ecstatic panic attack, the likes of which this world has never seen. Luckily, 37-year-old Kelly is better equipped to handle these conditions. Or is she?

She’s not.

Because the thing is, in addition to having way too many movies to choose from and easily access, there’s also a far too convenient escape hatch. I used to have to commit, and movies had more time to develop as a result.

Do I lament the deterioration of my own patience? Of course. But that’s not what we’re here to talk about.

We’re here to talk about Summoning Sylvia, the needle in the haystack, a little burst of dumb luck gone right.

Summoning Sylvia is a delightful, quaint little curio.

The movie technically falls under the “horror-comedy” umbrella, though it heavily favors the comedy aspect despite leaning into a wonderfully classic horror set-up.

Lovable people-pleaser Larry (Travis Coles) is kidnapped for a bachelor’s weekend by his friends Nico (Frankie Grande), Reggie (Troy Iwata), and Kevin (Noah J. Ricketts). In one of the movie’s earliest and most delightful little subversions, not only do all of the attendants know that their Air BNB is (allegedly) haunted, they celebrate it. It’s a fun and welcome bonus to these four immediately endearing and likable fellows.

Things get complicated, however, when Larry stumbles into inviting his fiance’s brother Harrison (Nicholas Logan) to the proceedings.

Summoning Sylvia’s other, and much more prominent subversion, is that all of the core characters besides Harrison are gay. This fact isn’t mined for trauma; the movie allows these men to simply exist in a happy, playful, loving space.

Harrison throws a wrench in that on two levels. First, he is hardly acquainted with Larry, let alone his friends, and secondarily, he is the only straight man at the party. And quite a surly straight man at that.

He doesn’t respond favorably at all to the warmth and welcome offered by the other guests. And he is decidedly unamused when he finds out that Larry, Reggie, Nico, and Kevin have performed a seance to summon the ghost of Sylvia, who may or may not have murdered her son and buried him in the forest behind the house.

And so we have the set up for a classic horror romp.

The house begins to make strange noises (in one of the movie’s most charming running gags, the incredibly polite Reggie keeps calling the host with very courteous messages about the possibility of demonic possession). Harrison begins to act volatilely. And poor Larry just wants everyone to get along.

To be very clear, Summoning Sylvia is not frightening. Think more of Tucker and Dale Versus Evil than The Conjuring.

It is, however, very sweet. Every character, save Harrison, is immediately lovable but also distinct. These aren’t slasher tropes; they feel full and realized and have the easy chemistry of a friend group. Everyone is kind to each other; this is a horror-comedy about lovely people being lovely.

Sylvia’s story, as it unfolds, is a well-constructed little haunting that manages to tap into some well-executed social commentary that, impressively, never becomes maudlin.

So it’s cute, funny (I absolutely lost it at the line: “This is why we must be careful where we twirl”), well-written, charmingly acted, effectively creepy at points, and also, unexpectedly, relatable as hell.

I didn’t go into it anticipating identification.

Summoning Sylvia

I’m a hetero-cis woman, so there’s not a ton of immediately apparent overlap in the Venn diagram of me and the all-male, nearly all-gay cast of characters.

But.

Any consummate people pleaser of any gender, sexuality, race, creed, whatever, will identify with Larry’s increasingly sweaty desperation to straddle the line between winning over Harrison and taking care of his friends.

I, too, have said variations on “Of course, I’ll sleep on this sofa that’s not even close to long enough for my height so that everyone else can have a bed, and why don’t I order a pizza to go along with those sandwiches so everyone has something they want to eat?”, and I imagine my many fellow people pleasers have as well.

At the end of the day, when the credits roll, Summoning Sylvia is a movie that chooses to think the best of everyone. It is the movie equivalent of being at your favorite childhood Halloween party with your closest friends. Just a warm hug of a movie.

Summoning Sylvia is well worth digging through the stacks for when you want something a little spooky and very cozy.

Overall Rating (Out of 5 Butterflies): 4.5

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