'Summoning Sylvia' — ghosts, laughs and a witch

  • by David-Elijah Nahmod
  • Tuesday April 11, 2023
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Noah J. Ricketts (Kevin), Frankie Grande (Nico), and Troy Iwata (Reggie) in 'Summoning Sylvia'
Noah J. Ricketts (Kevin), Frankie Grande (Nico), and Troy Iwata (Reggie) in 'Summoning Sylvia'

"Summoning Sylvia" is a new, independently produced horror comedy that's currently available via Video on Demand. It's a zany laugh fest that offers ghosts, a self-professed witch, and even a little social commentary about homophobia. The film was shot at an old house in New Jersey that's purported to be actually haunted.

The film gets a nice boost from its likable cast. As the story opens Larry (Travis Coles) is planning to marry Jamie (Michael Urie). But before the wedding takes place, Larry's friends lead him blindfolded to a Victorian mansion for a fun filled bachelor weekend.

One of those friends, Nico (Frankie Grande) fancies himself a witch and leads the guys in a séance, during which they discover the house's terrifying secret: one hundred years earlier Sylvia (Veanne Cox), the original owner of the house, murdered her teenage son Philip (Camden Garcia) before being murdered herself.

Our heroes soon find out that Philip was gay. They come across a photo of him and his alleged boyfriend. Is this why Sylvia killed him?

Back in the real world, the revelers are soon joined by Harrison (Nicholas Logan), Jamie's homophobic brother. These scenes offer some biting social commentary on homophobia, yet the film never feels preachy due to the fast paced and witty dialogue. Harrison is presented as a fish out of water, which is a nice touch.

Eventually, the full story of what happened between Sylvia and her son is revealed. It's not what the audience might expect, and no, I'm not going to give it away.

Running a mere 75 minutes,"Summoning Sylvia" is a fun, easy to watch film. The house makes for a beautiful setting, offering a lot of creepy touches and a few mild scares. But first and foremost, the film is a comedy. The cast plays their dialogue for broad laughs, and it works. Yet the comedy never detracts from the scary elements of the story. The film also features a nice drag number (even Harrison dresses up) that becomes quite topical given the anti-drag backlash currently going on in red states.

The cast is superb. Coles is particularly good in the lead role, commanding the screen in every shot he's in. He plays off his co-stars beautifully, and, in fact, the entire cast displays a terrific chemistry with each other.

Cox, though not on screen all that much, is a frightening figure as the ghostly Sylvia. Urie, a well-known gay actor (he was in the TV series "Ugly Betty" and starred in a 2018 revival of Harvey Fierstein's "Torch Song Trilogy" on Broadway) is somewhat wasted in a role that requires him to do little more than talk on the phone.

Co-writers and co-directors Wesley Taylor and Alex Wyse have done a nice job in fashioning this horror/comedy/social commentary mash-up. "Summoning Sylvia" is definitely worth a look. www.summoningsylvia.com

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