The predecessor to FINAL DESTINATION. An influence on IT FOLLOWS. This '80s flick is a forgotten gem.
Dark Summer. 2015. Directed by Paul Solet. Screenplay by Mike Le.
Starring Keir Gilchrist, Stella Maeve, Maestro Harrell, Grace Phipps, Dinora Walcott, and Peter Stormare. Campfire/ContentFilm International/Preferred Film & TV.
Not Rated. 81 minutes.
After the excellent little 2009 film Grace, I imagined director Paul Solet might go on to do other exciting things in the horror genre. There was a tender quality even to that nasty gem, which I found impressive. When a director can take a story that is truly horrifying and add in dashes of pure, raw emotion, it’s always a treat.
When I heard of Dark Summer, my first thought was Disturbia – the Shia LaBeouf film they actually reference early in this one. But quickly, after I got into the plot and the story started pulling me in the realization that Solet and writer Mike Le were doing something much different. Using a similar setup, with some changes of course, Le’s screenplay takes us into a much more supernatural and frightening space. Even while not everything is as good as it could be, this is a fairly solid indie horror-thriller. Particularly, I enjoy both Keir Gilchrist and Stella Maeve, who ultimately hold up a lot of the film. Add in an amazing score, the ever interesting Peter Stormare in a small supporting role, a few wild bits of horror, and Dark Summer is definitely worth a watch.
Daniel (Keir Gilchrist) has been sentenced to house arrest over the summer. The young man evidently cyber-stalked and harassed a girl named Mona Wilson (Grace Phipps). The terms of his arrest: no visits from unaccompanied minors, no computer access or internet, the last of which are monitored by the police. Parole officer Stoke (Peter Stormare) keeps an eye on Daniel and explains how the house arrest works.
However, Daniel’s closest friends Abby (Stella Maeve) and Kevin (Maestro Harrell) come by with a tablet so he can connect to a nearby internet source, and bring him a little weed, bit of Ambien. Later on when Daniel tries to call his mom – the reason for the tablet – Abby calls. And a minute later, Mona Wilson; with whom Daniel is not supposed to have any contact. In a terrible twist of fate, Mona shoots herself in the head on camera while Daniel watches.
As things become more and more sinister, Daniel becomes aware that perhaps his harassment of Mona was not entirely his fault. Once Abby, Kevin and Daniel dig deeper into the mystery, black magic works its way into the equation, and anything they believed before goes out the window.
Immediately I was aware of the incredible music in Dark Summer. The score swells into a pounding rhythm in certain scenes, which holds us in excitement and suspense at various points. Other moments contain a score that stays just below the exterior, pulsing with the slow and steady feel of a current taking us along for the ride. Composer Austin Wintory is prolific, even if he isn’t well known. His music spans short films, video games (including the 2012 Journey and most recently Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate), television, and of course, feature films; he worked on Solet’s previous film Grace, as well. I can’t speak for all his other titles, but the work he does with Solet is truly exceptional. If anything, you’ll enjoy the creepy, slow burning feel of his score in this movie because it perfectly compliments what Solet was attempting to do. Part of the film’s charm is, no doubt, the music; undeniable.
Some of what Solet did was frightening. For instance, the quieter and more subtle moments where Daniel wanders his empty, dark home are tense, and these contributed to that overall slow burn of the film. Not everything needs to be a jump out and scare you scene, or jump-scare imagery. Solet does include some of that. Mostly, though, he sticks with the creeping feeling of these low-key moments, and the majority of them work. The horror got better as time went by. Above all else, it’s the thriller aspect of Dark Summer which works. As we follow along with Abby, Daniel and Kevin sussing out the mystery of Mona’s suicide, there’s a lot of macabre excitement. Following along with all the steps of what we later figure out is an elaborate dark spell, this makes up for any of those brief points where Solet doesn’t hit the mark exactly with other aspects. Furthermore, I liked the makeup and special effects, as everything fit the tone and atmosphere Solet was striving to achieve.
As I mentioned, Gilchrist and Maeve each put in terrific performances, as did Stormare in his smaller role and also Harrell.
Gilchrist is a quiet type whose brooding nature comes across easily. He fits the bill of a young man who is withdrawn, not able to outright talk to girls and impress them. At the same time, he has an emotional side that is clear once we get to know the character of Daniel. I really enjoyed Gilchrist in It Follows, and here he impressed once more. The guy is a talented actor with range, which hopefully will get him more work as time goes on. He is certainly cut out for indie films with good talent and a unique sort of look; he isn’t weird looking, but has a look that sets him apart from so many other young male actors out there today.
I found Maeve did the best job of all in this film. She has a quiet disposition, which again fits her character well, too. She and Gilchrist have proper chemistry, and that helped on two fronts: the relationship of these two characters as friends, as well as Abby’s little crush on Daniel. There is an intensity to Maeve that comes across easily without her having to throw every bit of her acting arsenal at us constantly. Sometimes an actor can give the right looks, move the right way, and generally take on the right air of attitude, which Maeve does constantly here. Her caring nature helps to bring the character of Abby closer to Daniel, then as the film’s suspense and horror become more prevalent her performance goes with the flow accordingly, her character darkens and deepens. I’d love to see her do another horror, something even more solid than this, because there is a lot behind her eyes.
With a few missteps, I still give Paul Solet’s Dark Summer a 3.5 out of 5 star rating. There could’ve been more intense sequences, but many of them present still affect the viewer. In a few scenes, the horror jumps out at us and takes on a life of its own. Most importantly, the drama and thriller portions of the movie are incredibly solid. Within a dark story we find many moments of tenderness, either from Daniel or Abby, or both, and this makes some of the more disturbing, terrifying scenes less shocking; not that this is needed, but it puts an interesting spin on the other elements when a morbid plot has linings of beauty. Regardless, Dark Summer holds it own in enough places that I enjoyed it, and would likely watch it again down the road. I’m interested to see what Solet does in the future, as he’s already put in a segment called “The Weak and The Wicked” for Tales of Halloween this past year. He is a uniquely talented director who will, hopefully, go on to more exciting, frightening, wild projects soon enough. Check this out and if you like slow burn indie thrillers, you’ll probably find surprise in these 81 minutes.
Wrong Turn 6: Last Resort. 2014. Directed by Valeri Milev. Screenplay by Frank H. Woodward.
Starring Anthony Ilott, Chris Jarvis, Aqueela Zoll, Sadie Katz, Rollo Skinner, Billy Ashworth, Harry Belcher, Joe Gaminara, Roxanne Pallett, Radoslav Paravanov, Danko Jordanov, Asen Asenov, and Kicker Robinson. 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. Rated R. 91 minutes. Horror.
The shipwreck which was Declan O’Brien at the helm of several Wrong Turn sequels has finally stopped.
With Wrong Turn 6: Last Resort, the reins of the franchise has been handed over to Valeri Milev.
Though I’ve not seen anything by Milev before, I’ve wanted to get a look at his film from 2013 called Re-Kill. However, if this is any indication, I’m not holding my breath on it being something spectacular. The sixth film in this series is not the worst, certainly not, but it’s not good in any way either.
While some of the gore works, and this instalment isn’t hellbent on the awful CGI which plagued O’Brien, there is a serious lapse in the series logic when it comes to the characters and the setting, and in turn the whole plot itself. Not to mention, Milev is far more intent than O’Brien even was in his tenure as director to bring more nudity and sex into the movies. I’m not afraid of a bit of nudity in horror, there are plenty of solid horror films that do have nudity in them, but the only purpose these Wrong Turn films have had, especially those O’Brien directed, to use nudity is simply to try and keep people interested, or to perhaps they truly try and skew towards the male demographic. Either way, there are a ton of problems with this movie, just as much as some of the other entries in the franchise overall.
Wrong Turn 6: Last Resort throws so much of the little sense that exists in the franchise out the window.
Danny (Anthony Ilott) finds out, suddenly, that he has an inheritance waiting for him at the Hobb Springs Resort. He and his girlfriend Toni (Aqueela Zoll), Bryan (Joe Gaminara), Jillian (Roxanne Pallett), Vic (Rollo Skinner), Rod (Billy Ashworth), and Charlie (Harry Belcher) head out to the backwoods for the old hotel.
Of course, lurking in the hills of West Virginia as always are the three brothers: Saw Tooth (Danko Jordanov), Three Finger (Radoslav Parvanov), and One Eye (Asen Asenov). They continue to kill, maim, eat.
At the Hobb Springs Resort, Danny and his friends are greeted by brother and sister creepy duo, Sally (Sadie Katz) and Jackson (Chris Jarvis). The pair are hospitable, if not a little strange. Soon, though, an older vacationer at the resort goes missing. Sheriff Doucette (Kicker Robinson) asks them to keep a look out, pass around a flyer to see if anyone can help find the woman. However, she is long gone – probably chopped up for dinner by the inbred brothers.
Eventually, Bryan begins to discover things about the Hobb Springs Resort, terrifying, dark secrets, and things for him, as well as his friends, will never ever be the same.
So one of my initial beefs happens quickly.
Beginning with the last Wrong Turn entry, there’s this dumb trend of opening the movie with a “clever” (I use that in the lightest sense) way of using the dead/severed bodies of the brothers’ victims to give the number of the sequel. So, for Wrong Turn 5: Bloodlines, it was a severed hand that opened up with its five fingers stretched underneath the title. Now we get Roman numerals all of a sudden – probably because the filmmakers couldn’t figure out a way to plausibly get two hands to show 6 fingers without it looking clumsy. As if it made any differences: two bodies fall roughly in the shape of VI to help us spell out Wrong Turn VI: Last Resort. Just one of the reasons this sequel is another bad one.
When the old woman gets killed, it is so bad. An axe gets tossed at full-force and not only does it throw her back to the wall, it apparently lifts her a foot off the ground before pinning her to it. I mean – it’s almost as bad as the opening kill in Wrong Turn 2: Dead End, which I found to be too over-the-top. Again it’s not like I’m looking for a level of total realism from these movies, but there’s also got to be a degree of logic in some senses. There’s enough brutality in these movies that it can still be effective without having to get cartoonish.
My biggest problem with this one is a combination of things.
First of all, I find Wrong Turn 6: Last Resort to be, by far, the most sexualized of all the sequels. Declan O’Brien started this, albeit only subtly, in Wrong Turn 3: Left for Dead. Even though I personally found the 4th film, Bloody Beginnings, to be better than most, he still got worse with it in that one; right from the opening scenes. Then the 5th went the same. Now, it seems like director Valeri Milev and writer Frank Woodward were intent on making sexuality a large aspect of this story. Some horror benefits from an angle of sexuality – most recently, It Follows uses the premise of sexual encounters to head into very interesting territory, and a few of my favourite classics from David Cronenberg such as Videodrome, Shivers, and Rabid all have sexual elements yet they work to serve a purpose.
Second, I just can’t get past the jumbled nonsense that the Wrong Turn series has become. Starting with the last sequel, Bloodlines, there has been a serious neglect of logic in regards to the characters of these films. I know this is not meant to be expertly crated horror like something you might expect from Rosemary’s Baby. All the same, you’d think they would try to keep the logic together.
I mean, how does this sister-brother combo of Sally and Jackson even fit in? Where did they come from? My understanding, especially from what’s discussed in Wrong Turn 2: Dead End, is that the effects of inbreeding only got worse and worse with each round of procreation in the family. It doesn’t make any sense to me that Jackson and Sally look normal. How are they not raving lunatics just like One Eye, Saw Tooth, and Three Finger? My problem in the last movie was the character of Maynard, and how he was seemingly able to coral the three brothers with a combination of a dominant attitude and physical violence, yet the brothers are supposed to inbred, unruly, wild, and immune to pain!? It just makes no sense, whether someone is supposedly part of the ‘family’ or not, that the three brothers allow themselves to be harnessed and controlled into doing what some third party wants.
Still, it makes no sense how Sally and Jackson are the only two normal, and actually attractive, people between the clans of hillbillies. Then there’s Danny, of course, who they’re trying to lure into the family tradition of brother-sister-cousin fucking, and Danny looks as normal as anybody. These inbred brothers have been around since 1974 – that’s what we know from Bloody Beginnings and its opening scene – so where did these branches of the family come from and how did none of them turn out to look like the brothers? We clearly see there are others involved in these so-called clans, later in the movie, and they’re all haggard, too! So it’s just ridiculous to have these two good looking actors there in the middle of it meant to be part of an inbred cannibal family. Too much suspension of disbelief in this case.
In a Q&A over at Fangoria, screenwriter Frank Woodward actually said he likes where there can be a big world in a story where so many other smaller stories can be told. Unfortunately, Mr. Woodward went too wide with this one and forgot to try and link things together. If perhaps there were some other chains binding Last Resort with the other 5 films, even the last terrible one, then maybe it would have worked a little better. Instead there is a tenuous connection to the series as a whole, and after that takes hold I find it hard to enjoy much else in the movie.
I can give this a 1 out of 5 stars. Honestly, I know some people think I’m nuts for enjoying Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings the way I do, even though that’s only a 2.5/5 stars for me, not much better than this one. However, at least – for all its bad acting – the 4th film went for the prequel angle, we got to see the brothers before the initial events of the first Wrong Turn film, and it really started to setup a mythos of its own as a franchise, in my opinion. I actually couldn’t stand the 3rd movie, Left for Dead, but I liked that even more than I could enjoy Last Resort. Most of the other movies in this series suffer from poor written – varying degrees, but all suffer from the same symptoms. The problem I have with Last Resort is that it totally fumbles the logic of its own series, as was the case in the last entry, and I can’t get past that. I’m able to get past it enough to rate it better than Wrong Turn 5: Bloodlines, because at least this one had a few good gory moments; that last one was just off-the-wall nonsensical in too many ways.
Either way I cut it, this to me is definitely one of the poorer entries in the series. It pushes way too hard to sexualize the horror, including straight up naked women getting cut up, and to me that’s a staple of 1980s horror I’m not a fan of – I’ve explained this enough already, just does not serve a purpose for me in horror. There are other movies in the genre I do enjoy that have nudity, but they at least back things up with actual terror, some better writing, and decent acting – some of these Wrong Turn movies, especially this one, go too hard for the boobs and blood. I’m not into it. That, coupled with a lack of sense in the screenplay, really makes for an awful film.
I’ll never ever watch this again unless someone kidnaps me and forces it upon me, even then I’d fight like hell. These last two in the series have been just downright garbage. For good backwoods horror maybe check out a classic like Just Before Dawn, or a less horror-ish effort of backwoods survival in Southern Comfort or my favourite of that genre, the obvious choice, Deliverance.
Another one of these on the way for 2017? Oh mercy. I’ll see you then, and we can talk about how awful that might be. Though, I always wait to judge for myself. Maybe someone can breathe life into a series that once had potential, but has long since been ravaged – mostly by Declan O’Brien, now Valeri Milev has joined in on the assault. No idea who will be directing the next one. You can be sure it won’t be anyone too familiar, or maybe they’ll choose someone from the previous pool of directors. Jesus, we’ll see…..
It Follows. 2015. Directed & Written by David Robert Mitchell.
Starring Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Olivia Luccardi, Kelly Height, Daniel Zovatto, and Jake Weary. Northern Lights Films. 14A. 100 minutes. Horror/Mystery.
There’s been a massive amount of praise roll in for David Robert Mitchell’s new horror It Follows, and it seems equal portions of people trying to say it isn’t what the hype is preaching. My take? Mitchell doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but he does a damn fine job at making it spin smooth, intense, and a little better than the rest.
For the uninitiated, those who’ve yet to get a chance to see this film, It Follows starts with Jay Height (Maika Monroe who many know from Adam Wingard’s incredible action throwback, The Guest) who is a regular young woman – she goes to classes, hangs with her friends, and is seeing a seemingly nice guy named Hugh (Jake Weary). One night, Jay and Hugh are at the movies when he starts acting strangely, talking about a girl in a yellow dress who doesn’t look to be present when Jay searches for her. They leave, date over. The next time they go out, Jay sleeps with Hugh in the back of his car. Afterwards, Hugh suddenly throws a rag over her mouth and the next thing Jay knows she is waking up, strapped in to a wheelchair. Hugh explains he has ‘passed it on to her’ and that it will follow her, try to kill her – if it does, the thing will only circle back to him, so he warns her of some ground rules he has discovered. From there, things spiral out of control for Jay, and her friends are along for the ride. Everyone believes Jay was sexually assaulted, but the truth is far, far worse.
When I first heard of the basic premise I was almost reminded of the great graphic novel Black Hole by Charles Burns, which deals with a group of kids who encounter a very dangerous, strange disease being passed around through sex. Of course, the comic goes into a very different direction, but it sort of seemed like there was a creepy, similar vibe to both stories. It Follows is much more of a ghost story, obviously. One of the things I enjoyed most was the fact only Jay, or whoever is afflicted plus the person who has passed it on to them, can see ‘it’. There’s a great scene where Mitchell puts it to use when the group of friends are all hanging out at the beach, trying to help Jay as best they can with what they believe is just nutty behaviour after the supposed assault by Hugh. They all sit around casually, and Jay has her back to a trail coming out of the woods. Slowly a figure appears and we can tell with each passing second this is ‘it’ and not some random person. Very effective.
Leading out of that, I love how Mitchell really played around with this idea, of how the afflicted are the only ones who can see ‘it’. There are certain scenes you can notice a person in the background, their step slightly skewed and walk not quite right, they move at a snail’s pace, and you’re left to wonder – is that ‘it’? The ending also plays off pieces of this, but I don’t want to ruin anything on that end.
Even further, Mitchell also pokes fun at this concept, and directly at his own movie, which provides great tongue-in-cheek moments. There’s one exceptional part I laughed at hard when they track Hugh down again, discovering his name is not even Hugh but Jeff – he’s in the middle of explaining the whole concept of ‘it’ when a girl walks up on them, and frightened he yells out asking if anyone else sees her, to which they all reply ‘yes’. It’s always fun to see a solid horror film, or any film for that matter, poke fun at its own concepts and logic.When it comes to the horror aspect of the film, a lot of people who don’t find it scary, that’s fine. I thought it was very creepy. One of the first moments when Jay realizes someone, or something, is following her is downright terrifying. The actors playing ‘it’ do a phenomenal job, even though they don’t even speak. I just find the whole concept of the slow-moving ghost, zombie, whatever, a real creepshow – it’s been said time and time again, but it really is a great metaphor for death and how eventually, somehow, somewhere, some way, death is going to come for us all. Tired old cliche? Maybe. Works, though. The look of the film, the atmosphere, and the score combined all make for a great flick. Beautiful cinematography, which I love to see from horror films; it isn’t glossed over like an Anchor Bay remake, it looks gritty and raw and real but captured wonderfully. Disasterpiece does the score and it reminds me definitely of something a couple decades old yet still with a fresh, electronic sound. These qualities make It Follows one of the better looking and sounding horrors out there in recent years. There’s only one point of the film I didn’t like – when they’re at the beach. It isn’t because the scenes are bad, or the writing, or acting – all great. What I didn’t like were a couple of the ‘it’ appearances. For the first bunch of times we see ‘it’, the make-up and look is super unsettling. Then at the beach, there are a couple of the ‘it’ moments where the look is like a bad rip-off of Asian Horror, with the hollow eyes and the black around the sockets.
It felt as if, for some reason, Mitchell wanted to expand on ‘it’, but instead of keeping with a similar style he tried something different. By no means does it take away from the film overall. It did make those moments less frightening. In particular, there’s a tall version of ‘it’ who shows up, and had they kept with the practical looking make-up of the earlier appearances it would’ve been mind-blowing scary for me. That’s the only real nitpick I have. Some people have problems with the “monster logic” of the film. I don’t see much trouble there. I also don’t want to go into explaining why I think there’s not much to pick away at because it will ruin things, so if you do have opinions on their logic – comment, let’s have a discussion! Even when I love a film I can always admit if someone has a good point that counters my own. All in, I give It Follows a solid 4.5 out of 5 stars. If Mitchell kept the same look throughout for ‘it’, in all forms, I would’ve said this is a full knockout. But once again, this doesn’t ruin anything. It’s still a really solid film. I’m a horror fanatic and often I like a few movies along the way others think are trash. I just can’t see this being one of them. Sure, people won’t like everything the same way, but in a state of film like we are in today, with all the terrible horror films being pumped out, all the subpar found footage [I love the sub-genre yet there are only a sparse few actually worth seeing], it’s great to see someone trying to do things a little differently. People have also whined about how the movie seems to try so hard to be retro? I don’t get that. Sure, the soundtrack has a retro sound to it, harkening back to the 1980s and genre classics like Maniac, I just don’t think there’s anything else in the movie people can say has that feel. It’s very modern, I’d almost say it has an urban gothic feel with all the rundown neighbourhoods and buildings and the lives of the young people in it. See it for yourself, be the judge. One thing’s for sure – Maika Monroe is building a great name for herself, which I hope continues as she did a great job with this film. Solid acting, writing, and for those who don’t pretend to be jaded [I’ve seen almost 4,000 films, the majority of which are horror – I’m not desensitized, so stop trying to be tough about movies and just be creeped out!] you’ll get a couple fun scares plus lots of creepy weirdness.