Directors: Phillip Escott, Craig Newman
Writers: Phillip Escott, Craig Newman
Stars: Danny Miller, Richard Pawulski, Natalie Martins, Reece Douglas
When reviewing a film, it’s important to look at things as objectively as possible and not make it personal. That’s a tough task to start, considering how subjective the medium is, but, occasionally, you watch a film that is a little too real and it becomes nearly impossible to hang on to that objectivity. Cruel Summer is one of those films.
Danny (Richard Pawulski) is an autistic teen heading out on a solo camping adventure. Nicholas (Danny Miller) has just been dumped by his girlfriend and expressing his anger and upset to his friend, Julia (Natalie Martins), who has her sights set on being Nicholas’ new girl. In an attempt to gain favor, Julia concocts a story involving Nicholas’ ex and Danny. This elicits a need for revenge that no one predicts and it becomes Nicolas’ mission to find Danny. After enlisting new kid, Calvin (Reece Douglas), the three friends embark on their search. Just when they’re about to give up, they find Danny and what then follows is very difficult to watch.
Nicholas interrogates Danny, who does not understand the line of questioning, humiliates him and then his vitriol escalates into violence. Julia and Calvin are faced with the decision of aiding Nicholas or helping Danny.
The performances of the small cast are powerful, especially that of Pawulski, who respectfully portrays Danny as an interesting and multi-dimensional character. Miller’s Nicholas is terrifying from the very beginning, insecure and unhinged, and Natalie Martins shows a broad range as Julia, who, out of jealousy, becomes the catalyst for the unfolding events, then must deal with the guilt of what happens as a result.
Processing the film is where things get really tricky. Horror films, for the most part, center on a preternatural predator that can be easily dismissed or laughed off. They’re not real, after all. The monsters in Cruel Summer are all too real and cannot, should not be absolved.
The “based on true events” tagline is used far too often and seems to apply to almost everything these days. While the filmmakers have been very careful not to specify the origins of the story, it hardly matters. Those with special needs have long been targets for bullies and these characters could be anyone we know. This makes the film that much more difficult to digest. Not since Se7en have I been so physically affected by the climax of a film.
Cruel Summer is not a film that will appeal to the masses. It’s not straightforward horror and it is very much a “slow-burn.” The payoff, if you want to call it that, is painful and disturbing on many levels. It’s an exercise on the human condition and it isn’t pretty, but it’s impactful and warrants conversation. I can’t recommend it enough.
The film will be available on DVD & VOD 6 February 2017 (UK)
Suzanne Bell | Twitter: @ChazensJezebel
Images courtesy of Maven Publicity