It’s been a while since director Paul Solet made his debut with the powerful pregnancy horror Grace back in 2009, and this sophomore effort seems to have flown under the radar. Maybe it’s because it’s hard not to look at the plot synopsis and think “Disturbia”, a fact the filmmakers are aware of and make explicit reference to very early on. However, Dark Summer is worth taking a chance on.
17-year old Daniel (Keir Gilchrist) is put under house arrest for cyber-stalking his classmate Mona Wilson (Grace Phipps). With his mother away and under strict instructions not to go online, Daniel’s in for a long, boring summer. Finally, he gives in and logs on, at which point he gets a horrifying message from Mona. He’s left with an evil presence in the house that wants to hurt him, and getting out isn’t an option.
Dark Summer has an interesting choice of protagonist: a creepy stalker. Mike Le’s script doesn’t go out of its way to give us reasons to like Daniel – in fact, quite the opposite. He ignores the attentions of his smitten friend Abby (Stella Maeve) and seems incapable of stopping himself from pursuing his interest in Mona. It’s up to the watchable Gilchrist to keep us invested in him staying alive and show us that there’s more to him than his crime, while Peter Stormare shows up to steal some scenes as Daniel’s parole officer.
For the most part, Solet has a single location and a very small cast, and proves capable of finding ways of keeping us on edge. They’re occasionally a little on the nose (it’s hard to understand why Daniel would have creepy dolls, for example), but he builds an atmosphere of low-key menace that’s punctuated by moments of sudden and shocking violence.
It all builds to a series of third-act revelations that are really quite nifty, and patient viewers who’ve stuck with the film’s slow pace are rewarded. Although Dark Summer doesn’t quite grip as tightly as it perhaps should, it’s a horror that finds a new spin on old tropes. There’s more going on here than you might think, and horror fans should take a look.