Dark Summer [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Shout! Factory
Review written by and copyright: Anthony Arrigo (14th August 2015).
The Film

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 (Kier 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.

Video

The film’s 1.78:1 1080p 24/fps AVC MPEG-4 encoded image has seen a 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 to 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.

Audio

Being a subtle affair, the English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound track (48kHz/24-bit) 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 Master Audio 2.0 stereo mix is also included. Subtitles are available in English and Spanish.

Extras

This disc comes stacked, featuring an audio commentary, featurettes, and a theatrical trailer.

Director Paul Solet is on hand to deliver an informative audio commentary track.

“Director Paul Soletfeaturette (1080p) runs for 2 minutes and 15 seconds, featuring a lot of glad-handing from cast & crew praising the director.

“A Conversation with Peter Stormarefeaturette (1080p) runs for 15 minutes and 52 seconds, this is quite possibly longer than Stormare’s time in the movie, but he’s always great to listen to.

“The Kids – Cast Interview” featurette (1080p) runs for 2 minutes and 4 seconds, going by the running time there isn’t much to be said here.

“Atmosphere and Style” featurette (1080p) runs for 1 minute and 57 seconds.

“The Art of Dark Summer” featurette (1080p) runs for 13 minutes and 38 seconds.

“The Music of Dark Summer” featurette (1080p) runs for 8 minutes and 37 seconds.

A theatrical trailer (1080p) runs for 1 minute and 58 seconds.

Packaging

The single disc comes housed in a standard Blu-ray keep case. A slip-cover is included on first pressings.

Overall

I get what Solet was going for here, but the lack of a few extra meaty bits of info, as well as a lack of true scares or suspense, prevented me from enjoying everything that leads up to the decently-executed finale.

The Film: D+ Video: B Audio: B- Extras: B Overall: C

 


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