A teen under house arrest is haunted by a girl he’d cyberstalked in “Dark Summer,” a chiller that, like helmer Paul Solet’s prior feature, “Grace,” boasts just a few characters and basically a single interior setting. But his screenplay for that queasy low-key variation on “It’s Alive” was more interesting than Mike Le’s routine one here, in which a clumsily established premise develops into little more than a series of familiar “gotcha!” scares. Opening Jan. 9 on one New York screen (simultaneous with its VOD launch), then Jan. 23 in Los Angeles, the pic will do OK as a time-filler for genre fans in home formats.
Curt opening exposition finds high schooler Daniel (Keir Gilchrist) being fitted with an ankle bracelet by police officer Stokes (Peter Stormare) for cyberstalking a classmate Daniel is now forbidden to communicate with — though just what happened between them is never really detailed. With his single mother apparently gone on an extended business trip, he’s stuck alone in their suburban home for the summer, although best friends Abby (Stella Maeve) and Kevin (Maestro Harrell) regularly manage to sneak around the no-underage-visitors rule. They also get him a tablet computer, defying his temporary legal restraint from using social media.
Very soon he’s not only online, but also getting a video message from a forbidden, apparently unstable loner crush object named Mona Wilson (Grace Phipps). She takes the opportunity to blow her brains out before his eyes, first promising, “You will feel what I feel,” and urging him to “reach for the unknown.” After her suicide, he begins experiencing weird phenomena, including poltergeist-y disturbances, hallucinations, nightmares, etc. His skeptical friends are eventually convinced when an attempted seance provokes an alarming response. But there’s no point in alerting the authorities, who would surely pack Daniel off to a psych ward.
While competently made, “Dark Summer” makes no effort to lend its characters any psychological complexity, or even much distinguishing personality. Nor are the proceedings very scary — you’d think by now filmmakers would have realized that frights delivered via electronic devices seldom pack a punch, and other would-be jolts are the same formulaic ones you’ve seen in a thousand other recent B-horror movies. Things get sillier but no more original when it turns out (again, with just cursory explanation) that the ghostly nemesis was involved in some spell-casting hoodoo.
Young actors are just fair. Lone adult Stormare is in hammy form, his tough cop a walking cliche complete with leather jacket (apparently Stokes is too cool to wear a uniform) and sotto voce rasp. Tech/design contributions are competent, though nothing here significantly elevates the rote material.