Danny is a teenage boy who has Autism. When his mother and father decide to allow Danny to go camping and fishing alone in the local surrounding woods, both parents are completely unaware that three fellow youths are out and looking for him who are seeking revenge. The leader of the group, Nicholas has been informed that Danny has slept with his ex-girlfriend and he wants to make Danny pay with his blood.
Looking at the poster for Cruel Summer, I went into this film thinking I was going to watch a drama about disaffected youth set against an English backdrop. I had no idea that this was a dark and savage little indie based on a true story. This has the word horror written all over it. Coming out of Cruel Summer, I can't in good faith say that this is a pleasant experience. This is a movie that will get under your skin and stay with you. I think this is a film that deserves to be seen.
When Cruel Summer starts, we open on a house. We can hear screaming and arguing coming from inside the residence. It sounds like a domestic is happening inside. We see a young man storm out of the house in a fit of rage. He has just broken up with his girlfriend who has accused him of cheating on her. We cut to him hanging at his female friend's house who tells him that his ex-girlfriend isn't so innocent. She slept with the local retarded kid. This will set into motion an uncomfortable and at times hard to watch eighty minutes.
After being told that his ex-girlfriend had slept with Danny, Nicholas is hurt. He's not hurt because he believed she was a virgin before she met him but that his girlfriend would supposedly sleep with a guy who suffers from a disability. I think in his mind, his masculinity has been threatened by someone he believes to be an inferior man to him and this puts Nicholas on a war path. For the next forty-five minutes, we see two different timelines playing out that will eventually collide in horrific ways.
The first forty-five minutes shows the three teenagers on the hunt for Danny. We see them do a range of things like shoplift, go to the arcade to play games and drinking in the park. A regular day for these three people who seem like they don't have jobs. At the same time, we also cross back to Danny who is setting up camp. I think the first forty-five minutes is rather sluggish. There isn't much in the way of action. This is our chance to hang out with some pretty unsavoury characters who we'll come to despise by the time the credits roll.
Once we get past the forty-five-minute mark, this turns into a completely different beast. For the next thirty minutes, we as an audience are put through the emotional wringer. This is a nasty and mean-spirited little film. The rest of the running time, we watch Nicholas and Julia torture, brutalise and maim Danny. They don't just hurt him, they humiliate him unmercifully. This movie is far from entertaining. You won't find this a fun experience, but as a piece of horror, this works as an emotional gut punch.
The one shining light in the story is Calvin. He's one of the three people we follow for forty-five minutes and believe he will take part in this horrific murder. I was ready to hate. Instead, he plays the guy who realises that he has been lied to by his friends to commit an unspeakable crime. Julia lied to Nicholas because she was jealous he never pursued her, Nicholas and Julia lied to Calvin and said Danny is a pedophile to try and drag him into the crime. Calvin who sees through them when things head south tries to help Danny but ultimately fails. I actually felt for him as he tried to save this kid. While still guilty of leaving Danny to be murdered, I think his character turning back originally showed some remorse.
Cruel Summer concludes in a way that makes this story even more heartbreaking. The ending with Danny's mother and father waiting in the carpark for him while he lays dead in a field is just heart-wrenching. To know what they will find, I can't help but feel sadder knowing this happened to a real teenager. An innocent who really just enjoyed camping and fishing. The world is a cruel place, and this is just one tiny little story of how evil people can be to one another. If I could compare this movie to any other, when it comes to how it's structured and the build-up, I think Bully may be one that comes to mind.
When it comes to scares, blood, and gore, Cruel Summer isn't that scary. There are no jump scares in this movie. But I don't think that's what this movie is trying to go for at all. This is all about the build-up to an explosive and unpleasant third act, and it worked for me. While far from perfect, I think the movie succeeds with what it sets out to do. You know something sinister is coming for forty-five minutes, and when it does, it's not nice. The movie isn't very bloody either, but the violence here is meant to be unpleasant and ugly.
Lastly, the acting is great. For actors that I've never heard of or seen in anything else, I really liked all four of these actors. Danny Miller as Nicholas is evil, plain and simple. He plays that chav type very well. Immediately we hate him, and his performance is great. Natalie Martins as Julia is deceitful, and at one stage, I thought she was going to somehow have this character arc where she came good. Sadly she is weak and a follower. She was fantastic. Reece Douglas as Calvin was my favourite performance, outside of Richard Pawulski who plays Danny. Calvin has the most emotional arc while I believed Richard Pawulski suffered from Autism. Great acting from all four actors.
DEATH TOLL: 1
BLOOD AND GORE:
- A teenager with disabilities is beaten up.
- A teenager with disabilities is repeatedly stabbed with a sickle.
- Someone has a plastic bag put over their head.
- A teenager with disabilities is hit in the head with a stick.
When I went into Cruel Summer, I was expecting a drama about English youth. I had no idea this movie would slowly descend into a brutal and mean-spirited indie based on a true story. Some really great performances from the four main actors, some ugly and unpleasant violence and even some gorgeous cinematography make this a movie that deserved to be seen. While not an enjoyable experience or even slightly fun to watch, I hope this finds a wider audience.