Thursday 10 September 2015


When he is placed under house arrest for stalking one of his female classmates, Daniel soon starts to experience horrific visions when she kills herself in front of him over Skype. Now streaming on Netflix is Dark Summer.

Starring Keir Gilchrist from the enjoyable forlorn teenager indie It's Kind of a Funny Story and more recently the modern horror classic that is It Follows, Dark Summer sees him star as Daniel, a confused teen whose curiosity about a fellow classmate has seen him given an electronic ankle tag and strict orders to stay off the internet. He cannot have any interactions over social media or leave the boundary of his house, as instructed by his social worker played by Peter Stormare. But as this is the 21st Century, the need for teens to contact each other over their computers and video calls is too much to resist, so it doesn't take Daniel long to find a way to circumnavigate the restrictions placed on him.

The set up and rules as helpfully explained by Stormare's character (seemingly the only adult in town) are fairly sound, and although there are some basic cosmetic similarities with Shia LaBeouf's 2007 thriller Disturbia, the filmmakers make sure to name check that film within the first five minutes in an effort to put the comparisons to one side. Of course, Disturbia was essentially a teen-focused remake of Rear Window, whereas Dark Summer appears to have drawn its influences from further afield, namely the technological infused ghost stories that appeared from Japan and Korea in the early 2000s. The fear of technology and its role in our lives is something that the horror genre has increasingly turned to, but this has been done better recently in the Paranormal Activity franchise and the Facebook fear factory of Unfriended.

The cast is small, the budget small, but in the scenes of the spirit of Mona Wilson taunting Daniel (and us), the results manage to ring louder. As Daniel finds himself alone in the house and confronting nightmarish visions, Dark Summer is able to be creepy and unnerving. But, even though Dark Summer would like to believe that the behooded presence of Mona Wilson is as scary as Sadako from the Ringu series, she simply isn't; and even at an admirably short 80 minutes, the premise is still stretched a little bit thin to be totally effective. It isn't helped that, with Keir Gilchrist in the lead role, memories of It Follows are always close to the surface, and Dark Summer can't hold up to the comparison.

It's the inconsistencies that let it down. At times it extracts palpable fear from the unexpected presence of the malevolent hooded figure, and at others it relies on poorly executed crash zooms and quicks cuts which feel like a betrayal of the tone it worked so hard to establish.. The build up is good, but by the finale it collapses under the weight of its own overly convoluted myth. With moments to enjoy in earlier scenes, Dark Summer largely squanders the potentially effective set-up and opportunity to be a more modern spin on the classic haunted house movie.


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