Starring Keir Gilchrist, Stella Maeve, Peter Stormare
Directed by Paul Solet
Distributed by Scream Factory
Back in 2009, writer/director Paul Solet hit the horror scene and made a minor splash with his festival favorite Grace, about a grieving mother and her newborn child who has a taste for blood. Now, six years later, Solet is back with Dark Summer (2015), a supernatural tale of teen terror that plays like Disturbia (2006) meets haunting horror.
Solet once again employs a slow-burn approach, patiently meting out the story and scares without blowing his cinematic wad prematurely. This time, though, it doesn’t quite work (not that I’m saying it worked for me last time, either), and instead the movie limps along for a scant 82 minutes until arriving at a climax that provides a couple of commendable twists that come too late in the game.
17-year-old Daniel’s (Keir Gilchrist) summer is indeed “dark” – literally – as he is placed on house arrest (complete with ankle bracelet monitor) for cyberstalking a classmate, Mona (Grace Phipps), and barred from using any internet-capable devices. Dad’s out of the picture and Daniel’s mom is away on business, leaving the high schooler with lots of free time on his hands. Thankfully, he’s got a couple of friends in Abby (Stella Maeve) and Kevin (Maestro Harrell), who come by to hang out almost daily. They also sneak him an iPad, which has been tethered to the internet per some very specific instructions Daniel has provided. If he’s caught, it’ll mean a violation of his probation. But he just wants to Skype with his mom… and try to hack into Mona’s cloud account again. Strangely enough, when he logs on, he receives a call from Mona, who winds up blowing her brains out as he helplessly watches. Soon after, Daniel begins to see unexplainable things around his house, suggesting someone may be stalking him within the confines of these walls.
There are some things that Solet’s film gets right, although for this reviewer the bad (or, at least, the mundane) outweighs the good. There is an appreciable sense of claustrophobia presented due to Daniel’s confinement, and Solet’s frequent use of close-ups only furthers the sense of feeling like you’re trapped in a small box of a home. It’s an inventive way of working within budget limitations, and because of the nature of the story it never feels like the production is trying to compensate for a lack of funds. The film’s three leads all deliver solid performances, too. Gilchrist has a naturally nebbish quality, and the character of Daniel seems perfectly suited to his talents. Peter Stormare also pops up as Daniel’s parole office. He adds a nice touch of gravitas to the film, although the picture could have easily existed without his character. Some credit is also due to the film’s final moments, which present some decent enough (although not unexpected) twists.
The film’s biggest problem is being too vague and stringing viewers along for what feels like a longer trip than 82 minutes. Daniel’s crime is never disclosed, aside from calling it “cyberstalking,” so it’s tough to get a sense of just how far he crossed the line. And Mona, the girl he stalked, is never fleshed out to any degree where we might understand Daniel’s motivations, or care about her own. Outside of the typical stalker responses that she was “perfect” or that they belonged together (although some of the third act reveals do ameliorate these issues), there’s nothing to separate Daniel from the pool of desperate young men who can’t cease being creepy toward girls online. Something just feels… off.
The horror elements are all boilerplate as well: strange visions, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it ghostly appearances, unexplainable phenomena that others either don’t see or don’t believe, and a séance that offers up a couple standard jolts. There’s very little meat on this bone.
The film’s 1.78:1 1080p image had its fair share of post-production processing, with the color palette seeing manipulation in a number of scenes. On occasion, the image will look too hot, such as when the kids are in Daniel’s kitchen and it’s very clear the stage lights just outside the window are so bright the image is blooming. Sharpness is generally good, and the overall picture is very smooth and clean. Black levels appear dark and richly saturated as well.
Being a subtle affair, the English DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround sound track isn’t exactly lively, although it has no issues carrying the dialogue and occasional jump scare moments with ease. The sound design is very sparse, minimalist. Rears don’t get much use, but effects on the front end are nicely separated. An English DTS-HD MA 2.0 mix is also included. Subtitles are available in English and Spanish.
Director Paul Solet is on hand to deliver an informative audio commentary track. Other extras include the Director Paul Solet featurette, which features a lot of glad-handing from cast and crew praising the director, and A Conversation with Peter Stormare. This is quite possibly longer than Stormare’s time in the movie, but he’s always great to listen to. Things round out with The Kids, a compiled set of cast interviews (going by the short running time, there isn’t much to be said here); Atmosphere and Style featurette; The Art of Dark Summer featurette; The Music of Dark Summer featurette; and a theatrical trailer.
- Audio commentary with director Paul Solet
- Atmosphere and Style featurette
- Director Paul Solet featurette
- The Art of Dark Summer featurette
- The Music of Dark Summer featurette
- A Conversation with Peter Stormare featurette
- The Kids – Cast interviews
- Theatrical trailer