Dark Summer (15) Close-Up Film Review

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Dir. Paul Solet, US/UK, 2015, 81 mins 

Cast: Keir Gilchrist, Peter Stormare, Grace Phipps, Stella Maeve, Maestro Harrell

 The cruelty of internet trolling and social media stalking is proving a rich vein of material for horror and thriller writers alike. This is understandable considering the lives cyber bullying has helped ruin and the celebrity attention Twitter abuse seems to garner. From that perspective, Dark Summer is another creepy expose on a generation of youth connected purely by bandwidth; commenting on those of us who choose to replace meaningful tangible life encounters with egocentric online voyeurism and friendships that never go beyond a typed word, an anonymous comment or selfie.

Daniel’s (Gilchrist) obssessive pursuit of fellow student Mona (Phipps) sees him charged and put under house arrest. Forbidden from going online and confined to his home, Daniel uses his friends Abby (Maeve) and Kevin (Harrell) to establish a nearby WIFI connection under the flimsy pretext of him being able to Skype his mum. Despite his current predicament the lure of once again trying to hack Mona’s cloud profile still proves too seductive.

Neither Kevin or Abby seem particularly disturbed by Daniel’s antics, which indicates they are oblivious of his intentions or tolerant of them. In Abby’s case, her long term childhood crush on Daniel makes her subservient puppy eyed actions at least seem a little more plausible. God only knows why Kevin is sticking around: maybe he likes Abby, or maybe he just doesn’t have many friends; either way his back story is completely ignored.

The film’s first shock takes place early on when Daniel accepts a web call from Mona and watches her commit suicide live in front of him. There is a side plot featuring his belligerent house arrest officer Stokes (Stormare), who after suspecting that Daniel received Mona’s final call, also begins to get entangled in events.

Mona’s systematic haunting of Daniel’s life starts with visions and subtle overtures, before becoming a steadily more malevolent and physical presence. Kevin and Abby initially remain unconvinced bystanders to the events befalling Daniel, but following a bodged seance they are quickly dragged into Mona’s violent world of disquiet. Eventually the trio work together to unlock Mona’s back story and uncover her true intentions towards Daniel.

Conceptually, Paul Solet’s tale of digital violence showcases a number of accomplished and original ideas. It delivers plenty of atmosphere through both psychedelic visuals and a tinnitus inducing sound track. Initially Dark Summer even promises a series of scares delivered via a plethora of digital mediums. Sadly director Paul Solet seems determined to play things safe. During the slow building and brooding set pieces Daniel often escapes just seconds before Mona is about to unleash hell on him. When the horror does land, it’s through all too familiar visual horror devices such as plagues of insects, flickering monitors, self-harm and cracking mirrors. The twists are fun if a little implausible, although I confess I loved the ending.

The film’s pacing and character development are slow and at times confusing, but the quality of acting and brilliant cinematography helps in part to make up for this.

On the whole Dark Summer is creepy and intriguing enough to lift it above your standard angst ridden teenage horror fair.  But sadly it lacks the conviction to take full advantage of the incredibly divisive material it toys with.

Review by Dan Collacott 

Author: cfwebmaster

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