Summon a Fiend

By Eleanor Cho | Comedy
A lonely girl mistakenly summons a demon who tries to find her a friend.

Hazel is a little girl who is having a hard time making friends. People think she’s weird, she says, and her writer father isn’t much help, being weird himself. She has a hard time summoning up the courage to be brave enough to approach new people, and she feels very lonely.

But one day she finds a book in a library with a spell that she thinks will help her find a friend. She does the ritual but finds that she’s misread the word “fiend,” therefore summoning the demon Dantalion. Irate at having an eight-year-old as a master and desiring to free himself from servitude, Dantalion decides to help Hazel in her quest — and discovers the power of friendship in the process.

Written by Pimvenus Clark and directed by Eleanor Cho, this charming children’s fantasy short spins a tale about being brave, having confidence and making friends. Told with steady, graceful patience and respect for the feelings of children, it has clear and steady storytelling and emotional directness that seems simple on the surface but doesn’t shy away from the pain of its main character’s dilemmas and travails.

This is a film about and for children, and its visual language is accordingly bright and clear, with vivid lighting and colors and deliberate, well-constructed shots that eschew elaborate camera movements, instead engaging the eye with whimsical production design and sets, along with the occasional special effect. Hazel’s world is recognizable to ours, but it is portrayed with a patina of childhood enchantment that should both assure viewers and spark their curiosity.

Within this ordinary but heightened world, the demon Dantalion enters in a cloud of dark smoke and flashing light. Surprisingly youthful and snarky, his interactions with Hazel are contentious at first, and the writing and performance find gentle humor not just in his unusual name, but at his disbelief in being summoned by a little girl who is prone to misreading “fiend” for “friend” in gothic font. There’s also humor to be found in his blunt, perfunctory attempts to find Hazel a friend, which have the opposite effect of driving people away.

Actor Ian Richards as Dantalion has a terrific connection to Hazel, played with adorable sweetness by Ireland Richards, who. He has the tricky balancing act of playing a drily sarcastic, put-upon demon who doesn’t like kids, all still maintaining a rapport with his young co-star. Though he may say mean things at first, there’s an underlying respect for the young girl in both actor and character that comes to the fore as a true friendship develops between them. Even as Dantalion helps Hazel believe in herself, summon her courage and approach a new friend, he comes to care for the little girl — which makes their inevitable parting all the more bittersweet.

With its gleaming brightness and clarity of direction, “Summon a Fiend” could be nestled alongside the classic shows and movies of Disney and Nickelodeon. But instead of leaning on quips and antics to engage its younger viewers, the story has a gentleness of spirit and calm respect for its character and audience. It accomplishes the aim of making seemingly chaotic and scary emotions and situations clear and manageable, as well as reminding its older viewers of the value of kindness, helping others and believing in yourself — lessons that never grow old, no matter what age we are.

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