Bluray Review: DARK SUMMER

unnamed (84)When Scream Factory and IFC Midnight announced their partnership, in which the gang at SF would put out the Bluray/DVD releases of films on the Midnight roster, it seemed like a match made in horror heaven. Scream Factory is known for putting out fan favorites and loading them with a good amount of special features, and IFC Midnight has a good reputation of giving genre fans interesting and entertaining films to dig. Staying true to those roots, is SF/IFC Midnight’s July 7th release of GRACE director Paul Solet’s DARK SUMMER, a film that is full of great performances, a fresh take on the haunting sub genre and an entertaining movie that works very well on every level.

Beginning with an introduction to the film’s protagonist Daniel (IT FOLLOWS star Keir Gilchrist) via his house arrest for cyber stalking a young girl, DARK SUMMER does an excellent job of really throwing its audience into somewhat of a claustrophobic environment. Daniel is ordered by the pretty quietly intense probation officer (played by an always excellent Peter Stormare) Stokes to stay at home, without any access to technology, his computer taken away and an ankle monitor setup to make sure he doesn’t leave the premises. Right from the opening scene, we as viewers know that whatever Daniel did was definitely no small offense, and when his best friends Abby and Kevin (THE RUNAWAYS‘ Stella Maeve and The Wire‘s Maestro Harrell) sneak over, we’re given the details on the crime: Daniel, having a massive obsession with a classmate named Mona Wilson (Grace Phipps, The Vampire Diaries), decided to hack into every form of belonging to the girl, and having gotten busted, is on thin ice. It’s that revelation that makes the film so interesting right away, we’re given a protagonist that we don’t quite know if we want to like or not, and that dilemma as a viewer is a great one. Often in film’s like this one, the characters are very one-dimensional, but Daniel, and the way that Gilchrist plays him, is very different, making the viewer question whether or not this is someone you want to follow. There’s guilt in Daniel, and when his ever-loyal two friends sneak him a device to help him get back online, he’s made to feel even worse, as Mona sends him a Skype invitation. Knowing its a horrible idea but still being obsessed with the young girl, you accepts and the film is a continual payment for that decision. The girl kills herself, making Daniel feel destroyed, causing Stokes to suspect that he’s up to no good, and causing a deterioration into Daniel’s psyche.

It’s great when films allow the viewer to KNOW what’s going on, but to have the supporting characters think something entirely different, which DARK SUMMER does to great success.  Soon after Mona’s death, her malevolent spirit begins to haunt Daniel, and while that turn in the film might seem like an odd one, it works very well for the film, making Daniel aware of what’s in store, and causing his friends and his probation officer to think he’s just losing his grip and getting a bit of cabin fever. Played differently, the character could come out being a caricature, but it’s Gilchrist’s strength as an actor that makes Daniel feel very authentic, genuine and someone who you want to go on the journey with. There’s also a very prevalent yearning in Maeve’s Abby character, having loved Daniel since childhood, and the pain she feels having to watching him not only beat himself up over Mona’s death but for continually neglecting HER is played very well by the talented actress. The chemistry between the three friends feels genuine, and it’s important in a film like DARK SUMMER that the chemistry IS good. Abby and Kevin care about their friend, so even though he seems crazy, they do everything they can to find ways to stop the spirit, and it becomes a film about working together to stop an evil that may or may not be caused by the poor decisions of one individual.

In anybody else’s hands, DARK SUMMER could very well have steered off the road and headed into being the same ol’ thing we’ve seen time and time again, but the combination of AMNESIAC writer Mike Le’s script and the extremely unique visual style of director Solet works together so well, giving genre fans a haunting film that they haven’t seen over and over. As a director, DARK SUMMER is an interesting follow up for Solet, but the filmmaker does quite the job making such a visually exciting film, shot very differently than what you would expect, and further illustrating how diverse and talented the director is. It’s the perfect combination of great performances and good writing and directing that really makes the film one to watch, really sets it apart from the flock and establishes Solet as a filmmaker with a great future ahead of him.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

Like most of SF’s releases, the film has a good share of special features, including a commentary with Solet, the film’s trailer and a very entertaining set of making of docs. The making of supplemental material is shot and edited very well, making them feel very different than just your typical EPK’s. This visual touch of originality belongs to the team of Sergio Pinheiro and Adam Barnick (who in case you didn’t know, is an Icons of Fright OG who has done such a great job directing supplemental documentaries and music videos that all feel incredibly unique). The team of Pinheiro and Barnick have a very good eye for giving viewers something different and that eye for detail and making their making of material look as though you aren’t watching making of doc’s but something more, is reason enough to pick this release up.

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