Solstice

ON

Coming to DVD Tuesday, January 1st

Cast:

Elisabeth Harnois as Megan/Sofie

Shawn Ashmore as Christian

Tyler Hoechlin as Nick

Amanda Seyfried as Zoe

Matt O’Leary as Mark

Hilarie Burton as Alicia

R. Lee Ermy as Leonard

Jenna Hildebrand as Malin

Directed by Daniel Myrick

Review:

The last time director Daniel Myrick took a group of young adults to a remote location to make a horror movie, the result (“The Blair Witch Project”) captivated the entire filmgoing world and cast an influential shadow that still hangs over the genre today (even Grandpa Romero owes a tip of his conceptual cap to Myrick and co.’s success). Myrick’s latest horror outing, the derivative direct-to-vid “Solstice,” will be lucky to catch the eye of a Hanna Montana fan hard-up for something spooky to watch on Halloween night, but as movies about pretty, over-privileged kids taunted by vaguely supernatural forces go, this tale of teeny-bopper black magic is a surprising sharp piece of PG-13 terror.

Following the tragic and untimely death of her twin sister Sofie, Megan (Elisabeth Harnois) and her close friends embark on an annual summer retreat at her parents’ rural lake house – the recent high school grads’ last hurrah before splitting for college. Megan is far from over her sister’s death, but Sofie’s ex, Christian (Iceman from the trio of “X-Men” movies), thinks a weekend of debauchery among friends is the perfect therapy. A hunky quick-store clerk well versed in Neo-Pagan practices doesn’t hurt either, as Megan discovers once she starts experiencing weird phenomena and recurring dreams. Megan’s convinced that Sofie’s trying to contact her, but when she enlists the help of surfer dude-cum-shaman Nick and begins to dabble in the dark arts, she learns that the truth is much worse – albeit no less predictable.

Without an ounce of originality in the script, director Myrick (who also co-wrote “Solstice”) and his cast and crew bring the best of their respective talents to the table in an effort to compensate. Myrick keeps “Solstice” moving, even when little transpires on-screen. The film looks and feels professional enough to play theaters, its production values belying a low budget and perhaps even lower studio aspirations. The Oxy-clean cast would be a better fit for a primetime soap, but they work hard to carry the material they’re given, generating enough pass as a tight group of high schoolers even though each of them is likely years past that point. Harnois is particularly strong as she straddles her dual role, creating distinct identities for the sisters at the center of the story.

But pleasantries aside, Shock readers would like their horror, thank you very much. Unfortunately, while this secluded cabin by the water sports its own creepy old neighbor with a leering eye, we’re a long way from Crystal Lake, and “Solstice” is a far cry from the more adult horrors that have dominated the scene of late. This is an expertly directed, briskly paced thriller, but one devoid of any real thrills. When the supernatural forces finally manifest, they do so in decidedly unthreatening ways. Headlights turn themselves on; phantom stuffed animals appear by the roadside; and our heroine suffers a nasty dizzy spell. Discounting some regurgitated black goo, the film is also, not surprisingly, dry as a bone. Not even a bathtub suicide sequence garners any red stuff here as it’s revealed the perpetrator downed a fistful of pills in lieu of the traditional method (a conscious choice to play with our expectations, perhaps, but to this reviewer it feels more like a conscious choice to dodge an “R”).

One can’t necessarily blame Myrick and Dimension Films for going after a tween audience that’s been left relatively untapped amid the ongoing ebb and flow of hard-R horror, but it is somewhat disappointing that an otherwise well-executed film falls short where it counts the most. Still, while “Solstice” might lack the cinematic cojones to deliver your personal fright fix, its attractive leads and tame terror may just make it the perfect sleepover flick to help turn your little sister to the dark side.