Review: ‘Summoning Sylvia,’ starring Travis Coles, Frankie Grande, Troy Iwata, Noah J. Ricketts, Nicholas Logan, Veanne Cox and Michael Urie

April 23, 2023

by Carla Hay

Pictured clockwise, from left to right: Troy Iwata, Frankie Grande, Travis Coles and Noah J. Ricketts in “Summoning Sylvia” (Photo courtesy of The Horror Collective)

“Summoning Sylvia”

Directed by Wesley Taylor and Alex Wyse

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed city in upstate New York, the horror comedy film “Summoning Sylvia” features a cast of predominantly white characters (with two African Americans and one Asian) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Four gay male friends go to a remote house in the woods for a bachelor party, and they end up holding a séance to summon the spirit of the house’s original owner, who was accused of murdering her son in the early 20th century. 

Culture Audience: “Summoning Sylvia” will appeal primarily to people who like watching horror comedies that skillfully blend campiness with raunchiness.

Troy Iwata, Noah J. Ricketts, Travis Coles and Frankie Grande in “Summoning Sylvia” (Photo courtesy of The Horror Collective)

“Summoning Sylvia” is a sassy and hilarious séance comedy, told from a gay male perspective. Travis Coles and Frankie Grande are scene-stealing delights. The unpredictable jokes and gags make this film appealing to people who like comedy made for adults. And at a brisk total running time of 75 minutes, “Summoning Sylvia” is just the right length to prevent the movie from getting stale and repetitive.

Written and directed by Wesley Taylor and Alex Wyse, “Summoning Sylvia” takes place in an unnamed city in upstate New York. (The movie was actually filmed in New Jersey.) Four gay male friends in their mid-to-late 30s have gathered for what they hope will be a fun-filled bachelor party at a remote house in the woods. Of course, since this a horror comedy, the house has a sinister history that will cause some terror for these visitors.

The house is owned by someone named Frank (voiced by Wyse), who is never seen but who is heard over the phone. Frank has rented out house for the weekend to Reggie (played by Troy Iwata), the person in the group who has organized this party. Reggie is very meticulous and gets very uptight if things don’t go according to his plans. The bachelor party is a surprise for the grooms-to-be who are expected at the party.

The first groom-to-be to arrive at this gathering is Larry (played by Coles), who is a high-strung people pleaser. When his friends start bickering with each other, Larry is the one who nervously tries to keep the peace. Larry’s fiancé Jamie (played by Michael Urie) is about five or six years older than Larry. Jamie was supposed to be there at the same time as the rest of the group, but he calls Larry from his car to say he is running late because work obligations prevented him from leaving sooner.

Nico (played by Grande) is the most flamboyant and outspoken friend in the group. His fashion choices range from dressing like a grungy club kid to wearing bold makeup and androgynous clothes. Out of all these friends, Nico is the most superstitious and the one who’s most likely to believe in ghosts. He is also very confrontational with anyone he thinks is homophobic.

Kevin (played by Noah J. Ricketts) is the most laid-back of the friends. Reggie and Kevin have a crush on each other and don’t really know how to handle it. Kevin keeps hinting that they should be more than friends, but Reggie awkwardly avoids talking about it. Reggie is a bit of a control freak and probably wants to plan out any relationship that he might have instead of letting it happen naturally. If anything sexual is going to happen between Kevin and Reggie, then Kevin is more likely to make the first move.

During the phone conversation between engaged couple Jamie and Larry, an awkward topic comes up: Jamie has a brother named Harrison (played by Nicholas Logan), a military veteran who recently spent time in Kuwait. Harrison has briefly met Larry before, but Jamie thinks Larry and Harrison should get to know each other better before the wedding. Larry doesn’t feel comfortable around Harrison, but he wants to please Jamie. And so, Larry tells Jamie that Harrison can go to the party.

It’s an invitation that Larry immediately regrets. When Harrison arrives (wearing military camouflage gear), he’s stereotypically macho and homophobic. At first, Nico and Kevin think that Harrison might be a surprise stripper. Reggie is annoyed about this unannounced visit from Harrison. Reggie quips about Harrison, “The crew cut. The camo. What is he? A lesbian?”

There’s another concern that these friends have besides Harrison. Shortly before Harrison’s arrival, Reggie told the other pals that the house they’re staying at has a reputation for being haunted. Back in the early 20th century, the house’s original owner was a woman named Sylvia Lawrence. According to a local legend, Sylvia driven insane and murdered he son Phillip Lawrence (her only child) and buried his body somewhere on the estate.

After some snooping around the house, the four pals find some of Sylvia’s possessions, including items and clothing and photographs. Throughout the movie, there are visions of Sylvia (played by Leanne Voss) and Phillip (played by Camden Garcia) that might or might not be real. These visions eventually reveal what happened between Sylvia and Phillip that resulted in her being accused of killing her son Phillip.

It doesn’t take long for Nico to come up with the idea to have a séance to try to contact Sylvia and ask her what really happened the night she supposedly murdered her Phillip. Reggie is very skeptical about this idea and is reluctant to go through with the séance. Nico snaps at Reggie: “Bitch, do you know how many times I’ve seen ‘Wicked’? Fourteen times! So, do not question my devotion to the dak arts!”

Harrison shows up after the séance has begun. Many hijinks ensue. Nico and Harrison immediately clash with each other the most. However, people with enough life experience can see that Harrison might be homophobic on the outside, but Harrison might be secretly attracted to Nico, whom he sometimes misgenders as “she” and “her.” Harrison tries to act like he’s disgusted by being around these gay men, but he also seems fascinated with them.

“Summoning Sylvia” has plenty of snappy banter and amusing slapstick comedy that enliven the film. However, this comedy also has some social commentary about the divides that can exist between homophobes and the LGBTQ people who are the targets of homophobic hate. “Summoning Sylvia” ultimately triumphs because it’s not a movie that makes gay people the “victims.” It’s a memorable movie that makes gay people the heroes of their own stories.

The Horror Collective released “Summoning Sylvia” in select U.S. cinemas on March 31, 2023. The movie was released on digital and VOD on April 7, 2023.

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