Seventeen year old Daniel was looking forward to a long hot summer with his pals but after he’s placed under house arrest and is tormented by the spirit of her girl he believes he drove to suicide things are going to get weird for this spiky teen.
There’s the basic set up for Dark Summer, the second feature from director Paul Solet. It would be easy to initially compare the house-bound plot to Rear Window but we’re above that. Probably shouldn’t have mentioned it at all then. But anyway. We meet Daniel (Keir Gilchrist) as he is having an electronic brace fitted on him by Peter Stormare of all people. He’s actually playing a corrections officer called Stokes – although the film hints that he could be detective or parole officer, it’s not quite clear. Daniel can’t leave the grounds. His mother is
conveniently unfortunately away on business meaning he has no company or the whole place to himself. He’s also not allowed on social media or have any friends around. So basically this miner, without parental supervision is left by the law completely on his own in his house for the summer. Okay.
We discover the root cause of Daniel’s punishment stems from a confrontation with Mona. Mona is the cooky kid at school who people find creepy. On a late night Skype session Daniel takes a call from Mona where she delightfully kills herself on camera for him. Obviously he’s a bit upset by this. His two best friends Abby (Stella Maeve) and Kevin (Maestro Harrell – great name) aim to provide support along the lines of “well she was fucked up anyway”, real humanitarian types. Shortly after the suicide odd doings start happening to Daniel. Visions, Freddie-esque nightmares, light bulbs flicking on and off, a whole host of spooky stuff which leads the group to conduct a seance. Messages from the other side just make things go from bad to worse, just once it would be nice for fluffy bunnies to bounce out from beyond. Upon further investigation the gang discover that things are even more sinister than they first appeared. It’s certainly one dark summer.
Dark Summer starts off intriguing enough. Teenager stuck in his house for the summer. Mother’s not there for some reason, fair enough. Everything’s shot with a smoggy summer haze feel. The sequence where the girl kills herself is unnerving surprising. Nice. Friends turn up, teenage banter feels a bit stilted, oh well. Yay Peter Stomare’s here. He’s always watchable. Oh no Peter you seem to be acting in a different film, why are you going for intense and creepy your a correctional officer/police officer. Daniel’s having horrible visions. These are shot very nicely indeed, creepy even. Oh right a seance, that’s not cheesy as all hell. Loud bangs, screaming and shouting. Now it’s all going Scooby-Doo with the friends investigating. Peter Stormare’s investigating to cause that’s what
correctional officers/police officers do. Right now it’s gone full balls low-rent ghosts, incantations and potions. Well that sucked.
Yeah that’s a flippant bunch of writing but that’s how I felt watching this film. It has a genuinely promising premise. Peter Stormare’s alien performance aside the first twenty minutes feels like Larry Clark making a supernatural thriller. Natural feeling dialogue, a realist vibe. As soon as the horror element begins to creep in and later vomiting all over the screen it feels like a different movie. A lesser movie. Every horror device considered a “revelation” in Dark Summer are things you’ve seen in dozens of equally poor films. By the climax of the film, when the special effects are brought, the film actually manages to make itself look cheaper as well. It’s frustrating because Solet was working well with a limited cast and restricted script but by the time you’ve rolled your eyes at yet another boring “twist” you’ll be screaming to bring back the man who directed the first twenty minutes.
Dark Summer is released theatrically on March 20th and is available digitally from April 6th 2015.