Rating 3

Directed by Daniel Myrick

Written by Daniel Myrick, Ethan Erwin and Marty Musatov, based on the film ‘Midtsommer’ written by Rasmus Heisterberg

Elisabeth Harnois, Amanda Seyfried, Hilarie Burton, Tyler Hoechlin, Shawn Ashmore, Matt O’Leary, R Lee Ermey and Jenna Hildebrand

Daniel Myrick, the director and co-writer of ‘Solstice’, was also the co-director/writer of ‘The Blair Witch Project’, a film I don’t think lives up to the hype, although it certainly made a huge impact at the time of its original release and has subsequently somewhat blighted the careers of its makers.

‘Solstice’, which is based on the 2003 Danish/Swedish film ‘Midtsommer’, was released direct to DVD. I cannot pretend to know what criteria is used to decide these things, but I would imagine that for many films it is simply a matter of luck if they are given a cinema release, go direct to DVD, or even get released at all. There is no obvious reason I can think of why, for example, ‘Darkness Falls’ and ‘Wrong Turn’ should have been released into cinemas when this film was not. At the same time, this is not a film that is crying out for a cinema run, although I believe films like this are usually quite popular with teenage American cinemagoers.

The film tells the story of a group of high school friends who spend their senior year break in an isolated house in the Louisiana swamps, shortly after the suicide of Sophie, the twin sister of Megan (played by Elisabeth Harnois) and the girlfriend of Christian (Shawn Ashmore).

Megan starts to believe her sister is sending her messages from beyond the grave. She is convinced Sophie is trying to tell her why she killed herself, although her friends put her behaviour down to her sense of loss and grief. She also succumbs to her feelings for Christian, although she then quickly turns to Nick (Tyler Hoechlin), who works in a local provisions store, because of his open mind towards the mystical and unexplained. The friends have a number of unsettling encounters with Leonard (R Lee Ermey), an old recluse who lives on a dilapidated farm across the lake from the house they are staying in. Slowly, it becomes all too evident that they are being stalked by something sinister.

The film adheres to tried and tested generic templates, in terms of both characterisation and storyline. Plot developments do not surprise and the setting allows for nebulous references to Creole customs and beliefs, although these are never particularly central to the story.

Myrick seems overly fond of having the camera follow his main character as she walks (painfully) slowly towards a closed door or some other location of potential threat. Just for a change, it would be nice to see these characters walk at a normal pace. It would still be perfectly possible to create the aura of fear and pending danger.

I lost count of the number of times Zoë (played by Amanda Seyfried) turned to her friends to mouth some silent exclamation. Sometimes it seemed as if this were all she was required to do, but I thought Seyfried was very good in ‘Mean Girls’ and I was glad of this opportunity to see her in another role.

Harnois is an actress I like very much. I thought she was great in the unfairly maligned ‘Point Pleasant’. She does have a bobbly-head thing going on that is almost as extreme as the English singer-songwriter David Gray. I guess this could be distracting for some viewers, and I cannot pretend it is something I haven’t noticed, but she is in virtually every scene here and carries the film convincingly enough. I would say she is easily as successful, probably more so, as Kate Hudson and Hilary Swank were in ‘The Skeleton Key’ and ‘The Reaping’, two films that came to my mind while I was watching ‘Solstice’.

I am not entirely clear how old the main characters are supposed to be, although I assume if they are about to graduate from high school it would make them 18 years old. The actors are all somewhat older than this. Harnois, for example, is in her late twenties, although she seems to be persistently cast as a teenager, both on television and in films. This is nothing unusual for films of this type. In fact, it seems almost de rigueur for films and TV shows set in high school (or similar) to be populated by actors much older than their characters. For example, I didn’t bat an eyelid at the sight of 28-year-old Rebecca Gayheart playing a 17-year-old in ‘Jawbreaker’, even though she was clearly too old for the role. This might be one of the reasons why Claire Danes made such an impact in ‘My So-Called Life’, because it was so unusual to see someone playing a 15-year-old who was actually younger than her character.

I mention this because I recently watched ‘Suburban Girl’ and it constantly struck me that Sarah Michelle Gellar, who is thirty, was obviously too old for the character she was playing, a 24-year-old. To some extent, this kept on pulling me out of the film and somehow it was more blatant and noticeable than Harnois playing a teenager, ten years her junior.

For anyone who enjoys teen horror, or any of the other horror films I have mentioned in the course of this review, and doesn’t require that they come with a supersize serving of gratuitous gore, ‘Solstice’ is a decent addition to the genre. It doesn’t offer anything new, but it provides an enjoyable hour and a half of entertainment that passes without any great deal of hardship.

I was looking forward to watching it. I wasn’t disappointed and I’ll certainly watch it again.


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