After being convicted of cyber stalking the local weird Goth chick at school, 17-year-old Daniel (Keir Gilchrist) finds himself sentenced to a Summer of house arrest and being fitted with a Lojack ankle bracelet by creepy probation officer Stokes (Peter Stormare) who warns him about the terms of his house arrest: in addition to not being able to step beyond his front garden, there’s to be no computers, no mobile phones, no Internet usage of any kind. No unsupervised visits with minors. No drugs. No alcohol. And definitely no contact with object of his obsessive affections, Mona (Grace Phipps).

Stokes has no sooner left than Daniel is breaking the rules with a clandestine visit from best buds Abby (Stella Maeve) and Kevin (Suburgatory’s Maestro Harrell) who turn up with a big bag of weed and an iPad which allows Daniel (thanks to a router buried in a nearby garden) to hijack a neighbour’s Wi-Fi and pop back online to monitor Mona.

But when Mona herself breaks the no contact rule, Skyping Daniel out of the blue before shockingly commiting suicide online, blowing her brains out after assuring him: “You will feel what I feel,” Daniel finds his life and his sanity unraveling as he’s plagued by insects, guilty nightmares, strange, unexplained noises and terrifying apparitions, haunted quite literally by the ghost in his machine…

Treading similar ground to recent Kiwi horror-comedy Housebound (but with less success), Paul Solet’s Dark Summer cheekily gets any lingering thoughts of Shia LaBeouf starring, Rear Window homage, Disturbia – teen spends Summer under house arrest and becomes obsessed with the weirdo who lives next door – out of the way early on when his friends compare him to LaBeouf before debating exactly how to pronounce the Hollywood superstar and noted cannibal’s (check out Rob Cantor’s musical tribute) surname. It’s one of the few lighter moments in the film and Solet’s economical little horror could’ve done with a couple more as it quickly jettisons the slow, creeping claustrophobia and ambiguous psychological horror of its early scenes in favour of Poltergeist on a budget séances, slamming doors, moving furniture and possession-induced self-harming.

Harrell and Maeve are good as Daniel’s Scooby gang, the sleepy-eyed Maeve particularly fine as the teen BFF nursing a painful, obsessive crush of her own, and Phipps impresses in the little she has to do, a little of Stormare however goes a long way as he’s hammier here than Alpujarra Serrano on the bone. Perhaps the film’s biggest handicap however lies with Keir Gilchrist’s Daniel. While his friends may compare him to Shia LaBeouf, there’s a crucial difference: unlike Shia, Daniel is the weirdo next door, his obsessive crush and stalking of a schoolmate leading to his arrest and her eventual suicide. Be honest, it’s pretty hard to work up much sympathy for a creepy stalker who’s attentions drive a teenager to kill herself and the bland Gilchrist just isn’t up to the job.

While it’s never as good as Solet’s last film, the wonderful Grace, and fails to live up to it’s own cloying promise, Dark Summer’s an effective little thriller with a couple of nice twists and, while it succumbs to silliness in it’s final scenes, there’s something curiously satisfying about it’s denouement as arguably everyone gets what they deserve in the film’s central, curious little love triangle.

Movie Review: Dark Summer
3.0Overall Score
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