MOVIE REVIEW: DARK SUMMER / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: PAUL SOLET / SCREENPLAY: MIKE LE / STARRING: PETER STORMARE, GRACE PHIPPS, KEIR GILCHRIST, STELLA MAEVE, MAESTRO HARRELL / RELEASE DATE: MARCH 20TH
When 17-year-old Daniel (Gilchrist) is placed under house arrest for cyber stalking a schoolmate he thinks his already isolated life has hit rock bottom. With an absent mother and forbidden from using any form of technology surely things cannot get any worse. Until that is, he does find a way back online with the help of best friends Abby (Maeve) and Kevin (Harrell). When the victim of his crimes Mona (Phipps) commits suicide while Skyping with him, Daniel is plunged into a nightmare as his newly deceased victim somehow seems to be haunting him, much to the weary disbelief of his accomplices.
Dark Summer is laced with a creepy intensity that is noticeably lacking in many similarly themed supernatural thrillers. Director Paul Solet has generated an atmosphere of suffocating malevolence that seems to permeate your soul, that while watching instils a sense of constant dread of what might be about to happen. And this feeling simply does not let go. The minimalist, almost invasive direction intentionally meanders throughout, inserting you reluctantly right into the middle of Daniel’s slowly escalating terror. His is a form of psychological suffering that renders him deeply paranoid, jumping at shadows and reluctantly questioning his own sanity.
Much in the same way that one of last year’s great surprises The Babadook from Jennifer Kent created a brooding discomfort that irresistibly takes hold without overreliance on jump scares, Dark Summer expertly unsettles the viewer. There are some scares, of course there are, and there is a slight, perhaps unavoidable, predictability to some of them but instead of detracting from the main plotline, they strangely add to the tension, allowing the audience a chance to take a deep breath and subsequently fall into the misconception of thinking they had recovered their composure.
For his part Gilchrist is superb as the haunted Daniel, delivering a withering, darkly engaging performance around which the main plot of the film can circulate mysteriously. Given the strength of his performance it would be easy, almost understandable for the small supporting cast to become lost but Maeve and Harrell excel in their roles, managing to balance awkward acceptance of the situation without resorting to hammy histrionics or exposition. With the legendary Peter Stormare adding his experienced presence to the film this is an ensemble cast that delivers on all fronts.
Simply put, Dark Summer is without doubt one of the superior thrillers you will be lucky enough to see in 2015. The deliberately low-key production teases the viewer and the erratic switches between uncomfortable silences and the pervasive, intrusively pulsing soundtrack demands an aura of discomfort from its audience. This is a chillingly effective film, and one that is never quite what you expect it to be. It is an experience that may not be enjoyed by everyone, but is certainly one to be remembered; and for all the right reasons.