Tuesday, July 14, 2015

DARK SUMMER (2015) Blu-ray Review

Dark Summer (2015) d. Paul Solet (USA)

17-year-old Daniel (Keir Gilchrist) is placed under house arrest for cyber-stalking his lovely if unstable classmate Mona Wilson (Grace Phipps). Despite receiving the severe and sardonic ground rules from his severe and sardonic corrections officer (a slumming Peter Stormare), which involve no online presence whatsoever, Daniel (who is, naturally, a super cyber hacker) arranges to have his best buds Kevin (Maestro Harrell) and Abby (Stella Maeve) sneak into the house and provide him with all the tech equipment he needs to surf undetected like the Great Kahuna. Of course, he can’t resist checking up on his would-be gal pal, and, wouldn’t you know it, said contact tips her over the cliff and she blows her brains out live on Skype chat. But this isn’t the last Daniel’s heard from Mona, as her malevolent spirit begins to make its presence known... in the house from which he cannot escape lest his shiny ankle bracelet alert the authorities.

For this shockingly pedestrian follow-up to his 2009 “bad baby” breakout Grace, Solet does his best to animate this should-have-been-interesting tale of the obsession of youth in the modern age, but is unable to rise above the cyberhaunted clichés that wore out their welcome during the early ’00s J-horror wave. Flickering computer screens, close-ups of instant messages, and tracking shots of cables just don’t do it for me anymore, but Solet doesn’t have much else to offer.

Screenwriter Mike Le’s potentially intriguing concept is undermined by granting Daniel instant online access almost instantly, having already lowered the net by having his troubled protagonist’s mother “conveniently out of town on business.” Now, I don’t know much about the law enforcement game, but I have the feeling that no convicted 17-year-old cyberstalker would ever be left home alone unsupervised. In fact, with the exception of Stomare, there are no adults ANYWHERE in the film, which only further strains credibility for ancient gasbags like myself.

But then again, had Solet been able to generate some momentum, perhaps we wouldn’t have noticed. Instead, we’re stuck with super mopey Gilchrist (It Follows) whose creepy demeanor doesn’t generate a lot of sympathy, Maestro doing his best with a purely functional character (there to provide items for Daniel and remind him – and us – that "he ain’t such a bad guy"), and Maeve’s blatantly lovesick hanger-onner, whose “why are you hung up on Mona when I’m right here for you” mooning gets old within 30 seconds.

In terms of scares, there is the usual parade of spooky apparitions and hallucinations and dream sequences and shadows and reflections and glass shattering and mirrors cracking and water overflowing and iPods playing haunting tunes and and and as Daniel is haunted by his victim’s peeved ghost, but nothing really carries any substance until an hour into the flick where we learn that Mona Wilson perhaps wasn’t all she seemed. That’s when things actually start getting interesting, and it would have made for a more satisfying offering had this twist been introduced sooner instead of 15 minutes before the credits rolled. (Yes, mathematicians, the film itself is only about 76 minutes long, with five minutes of scroll. Yes, there is a stinger at the end of it. No, it’s nothing worth waiting around for.)

Co-distributed by IFC and Shout! Factory, it’s almost too bad that this blandly titled programmer has been granted so much supplemental attention, although I suppose the movie must have fans out there… somewhere. That being the case, this select (if not selective) group will have plenty to rejoice about since the recent Blu-ray release comes loaded good and proper with extras.

There’s an audio commentary by Solet, several brief (2 min average) featurettes on Solet, the film’s “Atmosphere and Style,” and cast interviews with Gilchrist, Maeve, and Harrell, with veteran Stormare getting his own 15-minute sit-down. “The Art of Dark Summer” also gets the expanded treatment, with 15 minutes dedicated to production design, and Austin Wintory’s jittery yet elegant cello-driven score (admittedly one of the film’s strongest attributes) is discussed at greater length (8 min) as well.

Dark Summer is available now from IFC and Shout! Factory and can be ordered HERE:


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