Dark Summer (2015) / Alien Outpost (2015)
Director(s): Paul Solet / Jabbar Raisani
Starring: Keir Gilchrist, Stella Maeve, Maestro Harrell, Grace Phipps & Peter Stormare / Joe Reegan, Reiley McClendon, Scott Miller, Matthew Holmes, Rick Ravanello & Doug Tait
Released by: Scream Factory
Reviewed by Mike Kenny
In conjunction with IFC Midnight, Scream Factory, the horror/cult offshoot of Shout! Factory, delivers two contemporary offerings of ghosts and extraterrestrials. First up, from the director of Grace, Dark Summer centers on 17-year-old Daniel Williamson (Keir Gilchrist, It Follows) under house for invading the cyber privacy of a female classmate. Consumed by loneliness and yearning to reconnect with her, Mona (Grace Phipps, Fright Night) shocks Daniel with a chilling message, rattling the teen’s senses. A prisoner to his own house, Daniel becomes convinced an evil presence is stalking him to make him pay for his actions. Stella Maeve (Chicago P.D.), Maestro Harrell (The Wire) and Peter Stormare (8MM) co-star. Next up, Alien Outpost takes place in the years following the near invasion of Earth by a race of aliens known as the Heavies. With a series of bases established around the globe to ward off future attacks, a documentary crew captures the daily life of soldiers stationed in Outpost 37, the deadliest on Earth. But when a catastrophic ambush occurs and a soldier goes missing, the understaffed squad attempt to rescue him only to discover a bigger threat at large.
Kicking off with intimidating probation officer Stokes (Stormare) installing a house arrest band, 17-year-old Daniel Williamson (Gilchrist) is forbidden from accessing social media or the internet following his cyber invasion of introverted classmate Mona (Phipps). With his mother away on business, Daniel struggles with his urge to reach out to his victim only to regrettably accept an unexpected video call from her. Shocked by what he has witnessed, Daniel is consumed with guilt, medicating his pain with alcohol and meds to no avail. Comforted by his friends Abby (Maeve) and Kevin (Harrell), Daniel begins experiencing nightmarish images of Mona convincing him that supernatural forces are at play. The more time spent in his own personal prison, Daniel begins to lose focus of reality, leaning on his friends to help him combat the ghostly presence that is after him. Similar and even referenced by the film’s characters to Disturbia, Dark Summer takes the claustrophobic tone of the latter and melds it with a uniquely conceived contemporary ghost story. Slow-building and capturing genuine moments of dread, Director Paul Solet’s followup to Grace introduces sound performances from its young stars and a brief but, effective appearance from veteran actor Peter Stormare. While the film would have benefited by toying with the psychology of Daniel’s mental state more before revealing a true apparition at the helm, Dark Summer ultimately muddles itself with one too many supernatural explanations by its final act. With infatuation spells, possession and more thrown at the viewer in the film’s fleeting moments, Dark Summer loses the mysterious aura established early on, chalking the film up to only mediocre levels.
Following Earth’s invasion of the extraterrestrials known as the Heavies in 2021, Alien Outpost transitions to 2033 where a documentary crew are recording the lives of soldiers stationed at Outpost 37. Originally created to safeguard the planet from remaining Heavies, the years following the First Earth War have led to many outposts being discontinued and less than adequately staffed. Positioned in the humid Middle East, Outpost 37 remains the most dangerous base with enemy attacks and upheavals from locals on a daily basis. Juxtaposing from the documentary footage and retrospective interviews with the surviving soldiers, Alien Outpost takes noticeable cues of alien activity set against the backdrop of realistic war zones from 2009’s District 9. After one of their own is kidnapped following combat, the remaining soldiers attempt to retrieve him only to discover the second coming of the Heavies is on the horizon. Battling brainwashed locals and losing more soldiers as their unsanctioned rescue mission continues, the troops of Outpost 37 are Earth’s only hope at survival. From the visual effects realm of Game of Thrones, Director Jabbar Raisani’s feature-length debut demonstrates impressive effects sequences on a limited budget that arguably rivals most Hollywood blockbusters. Unfortunately, the film’s premise feels far too generic and reminiscent of Director Neil Blomkamp’s recent sci-fi efforts while, the bloated and underdeveloped cast does little to evoke an emotional response from the viewer. In addition, the uniquely designed Heavies give the film mild hope at redemption only to disappoint with their seldom seen appearances. Attempting to blend the shaky-camera perspective of Cloverfield with high-stakes military action, Alien Outpost fails to make its landing count.
Presented with a 1080p transfer and sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, Dark Summer is a product of the digital age projecting an image free of any dirt or debris. Skin tones are mostly pleasing with suitable detail captured in closeups. While muddier appearances are evident in swooping camera movements, black levels are encouraging with inky levels in the film’s more dimly lit sequences. Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, Dark Summer’s quiet soundscape is well preserved with dialogue levels crisp and authoritative while, the ambiance of crickets and ghostly sound effects are delicately placed for the proper effect. In addition, an optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 has also been provided. Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director Paul Solet, a Director Paul Solet Featurette (2:15), A Conversation with Peter Stormare (15:52), The Kids - Cast Interviews (2:04), Atmosphere and Style Featurette (1:57), The Art of Dark Summer (13:38), The Music of Dark Summer (8:37) and a Theatrical Trailer (1:58).
Alien Outpost arrives with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Also shot digitally, this contemporary sci-fi effort exudes sharp detail and healthy contrast with strong black levels, evident in the film’s many interview sequences, projecting a welcomingly inky appearance. While the constant handheld cinematography may overstay its welcome to some, the occasional digital hiccups during heavier movement are intentional and not a flaw in the transfer. For such a rapidly moving film, Alien Outpost’s presentation is still a crowdpleaser. Joined by an impressive DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, the film delivers exceptional dialogue levels with no distortion heard. In addition, the film’s combat sequences of explosives, machine guns and other heavy artillery give the mix a run for its money that will leave listeners impressed with its efforts. An optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix is also included. Bonus contents include, an Audio Commentary with Co-Writer/Director Jabbar Raisani and Director of Photography/Co-Writer Blake Clifton, Interviews with Cast and Crew (16:23), Deleted Scenes (3:22), two Theatrical Trailers (3:40) and a Reversible Cover Art.
In the wake of their well-received release of IFC Midnight’s The Babadook, Scream Factory continues their partnership with two recent servings of haunts and alien invaders. While Dark Summer has slightly more to offer with an intriguing buildup that only loses composure in its final act, Alien Outpost is an utter disappointment that fails to deliver characters worth caring for and a premise too closely compared to other contemporary science fiction features. Considering their age and digitally shot roots, both films arrive with A/V treatments that range from solid to downright outstanding with a decent spread of special features to explore. Overall, Dark Summer and Alien Outpost are both competently conceived films but, many of their ideas and executions fail to hit their mark.
Dark Summer RATING: 3/5
Alien Outpost RATING: 2.5/5