Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 20, 2012)
With two big-screen updates on the story about to hit theaters, the folks at Lionsgate figured they’d stake out the territory first with a direct-to-video flick called Snow White: A Deadly Summer. After repeated instances of reckless behavior, Snow (Shanley Caswell) gets sent to a camp for troubled teens. Her father Grant (Eric Roberts) hopes this’ll help her, but her stepmother Eve (Maureen McCormick) just wants to get rid of the girl she despises. Eve consults with a magic mirror that acts as her advisor; it tells her to find a way to eliminate Snow once and for all.
At Camp Allegiance, Snow meets head counselor Hunter (Shawn Abell), a tough as nails former military man who runs the place with an iron fist. Along the way, she meets the other campers and learns a legend of alleged murders that once took place on the property. As time passes, Snow experiences visions that presage the deaths of her fellow campers – visions that come true.
When a movie’s opening lines consist of “Woo! Yeah!” then you’re in trouble. When a movie’s opening consists of those same lines uttered twice – and yelled without a shred of believability either time – then you know you’re in big trouble.
The most credit I can throw at Summer comes from its vague attempt to rework a well-worn fairy tale. However, it fails in this endeavor, as it uses the plot in a loose manner that doesn’t make much sense. I get the impression the filmmakers choose to turn this into a “Snow White movie” just for cheap name recognition; while it does incorporate some of the classic elements, it really offers little more than a basic horror flick.
And a crummy one at that. I don’t know the budget for Summer, but I’d guess it’s somewhere between 20 and 30 dollars. Not a single aspect of the movie seems professional or well-rendered. The script is a mess; packed with cliché lines and predictable narrative choices, it offers a meandering, generally pointless tale without much coherence.
The whole “Snow White” twist really does seem tacked on. Why do we need a wicked stepmother who speaks to a magic mirror? This has little connection to the main narrative; why not just have Eve be jealous of Snow’s connection to her dad and leave it at that?
Why turn Snow into someone with supernatural visions, either? Her psychic thoughts and Eve’s mirror don’t make the film intriguing or creative; they simply seem like incomprehensible story choices. I guess the filmmakers needed something to sell the project; at its heart it’s nothing more than a simple teen horror film, so at least the Snow White thing gives the marketers an angle.
Too bad they can’t sell the movie itself. As I already noted, the story’s a mess, and nothing else about the project works either. The acting seems uniformly atrocious. Even the “name actors” like Roberts and McCormick flop badly, and none of the others do any better; they’re all either too wooden or too arch.
The film’s lackluster direction does it no favors, as plot points come and go without much clarity. Early on, we see Eve’s side as a big component, but then she vanishes for extended periods. The scenes at the camp simply plod along from one death to another and never develop any sense of menace or intrigue.
It doesn’t help that Harry Manfredini’s score batters us from beginning to end. Given that he worked on the original Friday the 13th and roughly 487 other horror flicks, Manfredini could be regarded as a legend in the industry, but he provides terrible work here. The score knows no sense of ups and downs or subtlety, as even the simplest scenes get treated like they’re climactic. Someone could scratch his nose and walk to the mailbox; Manfredini would slam us with cliché horror/thriller cues.
I suspect this occurs because Manfredini and everyone else involved understands that there’s no meat in this particular sandwich so they hope that edgy music will do their work for them. It doesn’t; instead, it just befuddles the viewer.
Speaking of weird, apparently the filmmakers couldn’t afford decent “day for night” filters. Every time we go to a nighttime scene, the screen turns Smurf blue. The first time this happened; I thought it was some weird stylistic choice, but eventually a light went off and I realized that was simply the movie’s version of nighttime.
To say this is an odd and disconcerting choice would be an understatement. We never get used to the bright blue night shots, and it doesn’t help that daytime tends to veer orange. Making a bad movie strange-looking doesn’t add to its value.
And after all that, Summer comes with one of the cheapest “twist endings” I’ve ever seen. Rather than come up with a logical finale, the film decides to take it down an even more absurd path, as though no one could figure out a sane way to wrap up the proceedings.
I suppose that’s appropriate, as a totally awful film deserves a totally awful ending. I suffered through this train wreck so you won’t have to do the same – avoid this amateurish disaster.