Teenage time-bomb Nicholas starts ticking in earnest after admirer Julia launches a spiteful rumour that flushes his sociopathic tendencies dangerously close to the surface.
Young Danny is camping alone by a local lake, determined not to let autism stand in the way of his bronze Duke of Edinburgh’s Award.
And so begins the agonising countdown towards an explosive confrontation that will anatomise the moral fibre of everyone trapped inside its blast radius.
Considering the inflammatory nature of the subject matter, it is glaringly clear that the credible realisation of this intense movie lies in two fundamental places.
Firstly the film-makers decision to champion judicious sincerity over exploitative pageantry, and secondly the ability of actor Richard Pawulski to convince in the role of Danny.
Co-director/writers Escott and Newman draw the sparse narrative through a slow burn funnel with the focus on character evolution nourished by a pervading sense of verisimilitude. This formula may well have been partially dictated by the slight £90,000 budget, but that does not detract from the commendable sense of quietly confident moderation that surrounds the picture.
Richard Pawulski’s extraordinarily sensitive performance echoes this game-plan and is nothing short of a masterclass in subtle sophistication. He renders the complexities of autism through a faultless combination of penetrative empathy and disciplined gumption. Pawulski spent many hours in classes with children with autism and his performance alone is reason enough to seek out this disturbing film.
With these two major hurdles conquered Cruel Summer can relax and get on with the business of unfurling its true raven colours.
The rest of the central cast do not disappoint. Natalie Martins is authentic as the pathetically malleable Julia and Reece Douglas wrestles courageously with the character of Calvin in a role that represents the film’s conscience. Danny Miller, follows Dominic Brunt’s example, and takes a sojourn from Emmerdale to explore the murky depths of horror and is electric as the rancid human ballbag Nicholas.
As you would expect from a project of limited resource the quality of the acting does bleed-out a little towards the fringes of the epicentre, but not enough to inflict any abiding harm.
The cinematography is knowingly functional, allowing the actors to paint the backdrop to the cruelty as much as the camera, and becomes increasingly finite as the drama burrows deeper into the woodland.
Composer Josef Prygodzicz lays down a stunningly fresh score that excels in both eclectic originality and dramatic reflection and is far more accomplished than the majority of mainstream shockers.
Whilst a grounded ethos may fortify some of the financial frailty and delicately calibrate the film’s moral compass, things may prove seriously patience punishing for those horror fans of a more impatiently sensationalist persuasion.
It is also fair to say that optimism is an endangered species in these parts and if any movie will nudge you in the direction of the Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors it’s Cruel Summer.
However, what the movie lacks in on-screen immediacy and light relief it more than makes up for through relevant cultural acumen and a gut-punching climax.
Cruel Summer is the buckled cinematic wreckage left behind when cutting edge social realism smashes headlong into indie horror.
[rating=4] | Bradley Hadcroft
Drama, Horror, Thriller | UK, 2016 |80 mins| Frightfest World Premiere, Aug 27th, 2016 | Dir. Phillip Escott, Craig Newman|Cast. Danny Miller, Reece Douglas, Richard Pawulski