J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Friday, January 09, 2015

Dark Summer: Blood on the Ankle Bracelet

Daniel Austin must spend his summer under house arrest, but he will be confined to a seriously broken home. Even though his absentee mother and absconded father will not be around, he will still have company. That will be a very bad thing in Paul Solet’s Dark Summer (trailer here), which opens midnight-ish tonight in New York at the IFC Center.

Kids and the internet can be a bad combination, especially in Austin’s case. When he developed a crush on the slightly gothy, sad indie rock listening Mona Wilson, he hacked all her online accounts, because he is a socially stunted weirdo. Obviously, he was caught—hence the ankle bracelet and the regular drive-by visits from his P.O., the gruff but cranky Stokes. At least his outsider pals, Abby and Kevin, manage to smuggle him a laptop to catch a neighbor’s wifi. That night, a suicidal skype call from Wilson unleashes a whole mess of supernatural trouble.

Summer follows relatively close on the heels of Gerard Johnstone’s Housebound, but it turns out the world really did need two house arrest chillers, or at least midnight movie patrons will be nicely satisfied with them both. Housebound’s wickedly macabre sense of humor probably means it is more fun, but Summer establishes its own horror movie identity to a pleasantly surprising extent. Mike Le’s screenplay has some clever twists and turns, but it is really going somewhere specific, rather than just stringing together a series of jump-scares.

Summer also represents a major step up for Solet after the middling Grace. He picks up the pace this time around, but not at the expense of setting the scene and building the atmosphere. Wisely, Solet also refrains from showing too much in the early scenes, letting the uncertainty of Austin’s situation reinforce the claustrophobic vibe.

Clearly, Peter Stormare got the horror movie memo, because he hams it up just enough as Stokes. Whenever he pops-in, you know he will deliver some genre goodness. In contrast, Keir Gilchrist exudes anti-charisma, but it is appropriate for Austin. Oddly, he and Stella Maeve (pretty solid as Abby) look like they might be brother and sister. While their resemblance is not as (unfortunately) striking as Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan in The Great Gatsby, the added layer of creepiness sort of works in context for Summer.

Yes, Austin is in for a darned dark summer, but that still probably sounds okay to New Yorkers invigorated by yesterday’s single digit temperatures. Regardless, horror genre fans should be impressed how Solet invigorates the conventions of Grudge-style horror. Indeed, it is way better than you would expect from the hum-drum one-sheet. Recommended pretty highly for anyone looking for a moody supernatural outing, Dark Summer opens late tonight (1/9) at the IFC Center.

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