The remote Staufen House, which has an unusual varnished wood look, is purportedly an exclusive therapy institute catering to the rich and famous – you can’t apply to go there, you have to be ‘summoned’. Multi-platinum recording artist Joplyn Rose (Emma Fitzpatrick) has received the summons, and is driven out to the place by her down-to-earth, African-American boyfriend Elijah (J. Quinton Johnson), a talented musician who nevertheless runs the auto-repair shop he inherited from his grandfather rather than commit to the uncertainties of showbusiness, and is low-key determined not to ride his girlfriend’s fame and connections to change his life … though he’d like to change hers by proposing marriage. The trip out to Staufen House is marked by omens – including a ranting madman in the woods (director Mark Meir) and Elijah’s hallucinatory flash-forward fantasies of burying someone in the grey dirt – and it turns out that Joplyn’s therapy buddies are almost caricature awful celebs – shady gazillionaire Joe Agrippa (Salvador Chacon), whose best-selling self-help book has an ominous Faustian scheme, and social media-addicted movie star sex (and everything else) addict diva Tara Grandier (Angela Gulner). The therapy leader Dr Justus Frost (Frederick Stuart, channelling Gary Oldman) seems to be the only staff at the house and there are three strange, unfinished paintings on display to represent the sins of the not-as-penitent-as-you’d-expect celebs … also, Elijah, who hasn’t been summoned, starts to wonder why so much of the get-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night-and-talk session is about him rather than them.
Deals with the devil keep getting referred to or discussed or joked about – google the character names for more resonance – and echoes of Get Out suggest that Elijah is in pretty deep trouble. But writer Yuri Baranovsky is canny enough to know audiences will twig where this is going and then go somewhere else – including a very funny stretch where Tara realises she’s one of the few people who has actually played the ‘fuck marry kill’ game to completion – and then go somewhere else again, all the way down to crucial twists embedded in the end credits crawl. The complicated central relationship between celeb and ordinary dweeb – both living out grandparents’ dreams – is well-played by Johnson and Fitzpatrick, with everyone around saying they’re doomed but sparks suggesting they might still stick by each other, with an affecting scene as Johnson is nagged into singing one of his songs (naturally on a tempting serpent theme) with Joplyn and shows that he has a real, angry talent (Fitzpatrick actually wrote the song, which is genuinely catchy) which might contribute more to his downfall than the offers of shady big money deals and fast no-consequences sex offered by the other summoned. It’s a set of variations on a theme, but extremely satisfying.