CRUEL SUMMER (2016) – Co-Written and Directed by Phillip Escott and Craig Newman
‘Cruel Summer’. I am not sure of where to start… I witnessed what might be one of the singular most painful viewing experiences of my life. I have watched (like so many) hours upon hours of terrible things done on every viewing platform that you could name or find. I have watched monkey’s brains being made in FACES OF DEATH, a woman being skinned alive in MARTYRS, a bulbous man fucking a human centipede but none of them are real. God there is so much I have witnessed in the fluid and unrelenting genre of horror that it has stained who I am and changed how I see the world around me. With few exceptions, I have never reacted to it. I know it is not real whether there is truth or reality infused in it. IT’S ONLY A MOVIE… IT’S ONLY A MOVIE… as they say! Well, this viewing of Phillip Escott and Craig Newman true crime horror masterpiece CRUEL SUMMER, changed that and made me openly wept by the final black screen.
You may ask why or what triggered the emotion? The answer is personal connection. I continue to work very closely with students who are on the spectrum like Danny. For more than five years, I have been a guide and educator of common sense, responsibility and focus for young adults who move through our world unsure, needing structure and more brave then most people I know. CRUEL SUMMER in less than 80 minutes not only really scared me but invoked the deep seeded anger and sadness that was meant to be invoked by the viewer from this film. For most reviewers of this film, they probably do not understand the journey and experience of being on the spectrum or working with those who deal with this. They do not understand the reality in the performance, Danny’s reaction, understanding, need of structure or coping. I have been lucky and I am truly blessed to have some understanding inside the complexity of this film and for that experience alone, it connected with me on such a deep level. For me, CRUEL SUMMER is to date the best horror films this year.
CRUEL SUMMER revolves around a quartet of young adults, a rumor, autism and action through fear comes at you like a storm growing on the horizon. Why the title for me does it no justice, each moment of the film is not wasted and has purpose. For actors Danny Miller, Reece Douglas, Natalie Martins and Richard Pawulski, their combined talent, realistic delivery and embodiment of their characters made this film the profile we see many deal with in schools, in society and more. These powerful performances are crafted strategically through each artistic shot, framed action with the intention of balancing what you see and what you don’t without a choice leaving your mind reeling. CRUEL SUMMER is assembled against a small amount of locations that reflect everyday life, childhood and the untouched tranquil beauty of nature that makes the events at certain times even more scary, contrasting and shocking against it. The film begins in broken frames like puzzle pieces waiting to be put together and leaving us asking what is happening? High functioning young adult Danny (Pawulski) is packing for a solo camping trip to earn a badge for a BOY SCOUT style organization. Seeing the excitement, pride, love and fear in his parent’s eyes, his father takes him to the bus stop as Danny goes off into the woods.
As he sets up his camp and settles into the flow of nature and his own rhythm, the true horror of the film’s narrative unfolds with the trio off misguided youth in Nicholas (Miller), Calvin (Douglas) and Julia (Martins) coming together to do something truly awful.
Julia is jealous of Nicholas ex-girlfriend so she tells Nicholas a lie that his ex-girlfriend has had sex with Danny. Nicholas, who already is filled with fury, attitude and fear, has the seed planted blaming Danny for his short comings and treatment of his ex. Nicholas decides to teach Danny a lesson with the help of Julia and his other friend Calvin whose home life is struggling. The pack sets out on a journey also to find out where Danny has gone and to teach him a lesson with bad intentions through tactics of fear and bullying that may be pushed too far. That lesson rapidly escalates as the trio finds Danny within the woods and slowly begins to abuse, humiliate, torment and gruesomely cross the line.
I was blown away by the wave of emotion and shock that I felt as the screen went black and everything had settled. The power and empathetic pain of each shot of the final reel made me feel like I was there experiencing it. Having the personal experience with students on the spectrum only stirred up the worst possible feelings inside of me after witnessing these performances and direction. All four actors deserve high recognition for the reality and inner strength to deal with this material in the ways they did. All truly embraced their characters and took them with a razor edge of control to the limits that I have not seen since Wes Craven’s THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT.
In particular, Pawulski whose portrayal of Danny physically, behaviorally, verbally, socially, coping and cognitively. His talent is blended with clear and focused direction and screenwriting by Escott and Newman that created a truly terrifying and incredibly challenging realism of the disability both in triumph, struggle and horror. Pawulski on every level created Danny with a respect and true emotion that I have never seen before so personalized for a character in balance and in duress. CRUEL SUMMER features a very light and simple soundtrack that like the beauty of nature, enhances the torment, horror and flow. With films like THEM, EDEN LAKE, THE GIRL NEXT DOOR and again THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, CRUEL SUMMER joins this list of explorations that may make you feel dirty, shock you but also respect you as a viewer and show you that the reality of the world and society is horrifying to the end. ‘Cruel Summer’ is worth looking at.
(Images from Google)
Review Completed by Jay Kay @JayKayHorror
‘Cruel Summer’ is oh so cruel