Starring Keir Gilchrist, Peter Stormare, Grace Phipps, Stella Maeve, Maestro Harrell
Directed by Paul Solet
When you burst onto the horror scene with an impressive debut feature, you become somewhat of a genre darling, and I can’t think of a better way to describe Paul Solet. In 2009, Solet wrote and directed Grace, an exceptional first outing that was one of the very best horror films of that year.
Six years later, Solet makes his return with Dark Summer, penned by Mike Le. Trading in the undead baby for paranormal thrills and chills, Solet’s follow-up to Grace centers on 17-year-old Daniel, on house arrest after stalking the girl he’s in love with. When she kills herself during a Skype chat with him, Daniel becomes convinced that the girl of his dreams is haunting his waking nightmares.
Yes, this is yet another tale of paranormal activity, but Dark Summer has a whole lot more going for it than similar movies that have littered the big screen in recent years. For one, main character Daniel (Gilchrist) is an interesting one, as he’s the rare lead in a horror film that you kind of don’t trust or even like. He’s a self-confessed cyber stalker, and the film is immediately engaging due to the fact that he feels more like a horror movie villain than a horror movie “good guy.”
Though the script provides little reason to care about anyone in it, there’s also a story of unrequited love going on here between Daniel and friend Abby (Maeve) that is fairly compelling, as Abby clearly feels for Daniel the way Daniel feels for the girl he can’t get out of his mind – though he’s too stuck in his own head to even realize it. Why Abby is so in love with such a dull and creepy character is anyone’s guess, though there’s something sweet and heartbreaking about their relationship.
Another thing that separates this one from the paranormal pack is that Peter Stormare is in it, an actor who is almost always the best part of anything he’s in. Playing against type, Stormare is Daniel’s parole officer in Dark Summer, and he is indeed the finest actor in the film. His mere presence helps elevate it to another level, and it’s nice to see him play a guy on the right side of the law rather than the wrong side of it – though you still get the sense that his character’s got some serious demons!
Unfortunately, where Dark Summer falls apart is in its insistence to be just another paranormal movie, which is quite frankly what it is. Once that supernatural element comes into play, the film becomes little more than a rehashing of ideas and concepts from every other movie of this variety, with things like creepy dolls, strange symbols that require Google searches, a mysterious secret door and electronics with minds of their own filling out the majority of the runtime – sound familiar? Yeah. It is.
What’s frustrating is that Dark Summer feels like a movie that anyone could’ve made, which is a shame considering the fact that Solet is a director who’s better than making such a film. Like with Grace, his directing here is notably above average – an underwater scene, in particular, is quite beautiful – so it’s hard to blame him (or even the actors) for the things that don’t work about it.
The problems all boil down to the script, which is far too generic for its own good. Solet does all he can with the material, making a better film than most would with what was given to him, but he can only do so much. At the end of the day, Dark Summer just isn’t the sort of movie you’d expect or hope for from the guy who made such a unique and meaningful film as Grace, and you kind of can’t help but be disappointed about that.
Though competently made, with more going for it than the majority of Hollywood’s recent ghost stories, Dark Summer is nevertheless likely to leave you with the feeling that there wasn’t much meaning to what you just watched. It’s mediocre at best, imparting little more than a hope that Paul Solet’s next film is written by Paul Solet.
So here’s to hoping.