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Haunted Sideshow

Dustin Putman

Dark Summer  (2015)
1 Star
Directed by Paul Solet.
Cast: Keir Gilchrist, Stella Maeve, Maestro Harrell, Peter Stormare, Grace Phipps.
2015 – 82 minutes
Not Rated (equivalent of an R for strong violence).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman for, July 6, 2015.
"Dark Summer" is a moodily evocative title, one that rustles up sense imagery of blistering days of beachy sunshine and steamy, anything-can-happen nights of freedom, excitement and danger. The film in question, unfortunately, doesn't begin to live up to this suggestive moniker. It is set predominately in a single location—a nondescript single-family home in suburban Los Angeles—and concerns 17-year-old Daniel Austin (Keir Gilchrist), who is stuck there on house arrest after getting charged with cyber-stalking classmate Mona Wilson (Grace Phipps). The setup is strikingly close to 2007's "Disturbia," so much so that a character references that stylish Shia LeBeouf thriller before the first act is over. This is not a witty, knowing, name-checking satire like "Scream," however, and it isn't long before the movie is settling in as an inert, hackneyed supernatural mystery wherein Daniel wanders around his empty abode and a corpsy hooded figure with smeared mascara pops up to spook him every few minutes. For director Paul Solet, who made a splashy debut with 2009's unsettling film festival darling "Grace," this is such a downward slide that it scarcely feels as if it has been made by the same person.

Written with a stale identity deficiency by Mike Le, "Dark Summer" follows an aloof, thinly developed protagonist who is so self-involved it is impossible to care about him. Female friend Abby (Stella Maeve) harbors a none-too-subtle crush on him, but he doesn't bother to notice. His father is out of the picture and his mother is away for the duration, so disinterested in her son that she never so much as bothers to call him from her faraway location. With a slim ensemble led by Keir Gilchrist (2015's "It Follows"), one would assume the film could focus its attention on building atmosphere, but with the exception of one grim, dreamy sequence set in a swimming pool (unsettlingly complemented by Elysian Fields' song "Climbing My Dark Hair"), there is little worth remembering. Familiar ploys for scares fall flat, while the drama of Daniel's circumstances hold no emotional resonance. "Dark Summer" mopes around for 82 minutes, inspiration in short supply and its third-act possession subplot only serving to make the narrative more confused and ham-fisted than it already has been. Solet created deserved buzz for himself with "Grace" in 2009; let's hope his next picture recaptures that same twisted inspiration.
© 2015 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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