Starring Richard Pawulski, Danny Miller, Natalie Martins
Directed by Phillip Escott, Craig Newman
I’ll honestly say that at this time in my less-than-memorable existence, I’ve grown to be exponentially desensitized to virtually almost every frame of subject matter that can be thrown down on film. That does not mean for a second that you don’t take a little piece of said matter home with you, but it’s the true-to-life subjects that hit you with a little bit more weight. In the case of Phillip Escott and Craig Newman’s traumatic Cruel Summer, the focus is on bullying, and damn, did this one thump me like a sledgehammer in the chest.
Focusing on an autistic teen (Pawulski, in a standout performance) named Danny, the film uses bluntly violent tactics in order to convey a very sad (and all too familiar) message. Danny lives in a world that has eyes cast upon him and others with disabilities, and his one true release is a solo camping trip made possible by a Duke of Edinburgh Award – unfortunately, he won’t be alone in his recreation time.
Fueled by the false accusations of a young woman (Martins), the overly angry Nicholas (Miller) and another friend (Reece Douglas) set off into the woods, ramped up on booze to teach the unknowing (and undeserving) Danny a very painful lesson. We as the audience watch the film from both sunny and dark perspectives – the hope and prosperity of an impaired youth getting his opportunity to experience a taste of unconstrained freedom, and the impending destruction of that liberty. Predator and prey, in layman’s terms, pure and simple.
Each and every performance in this presentation is noteworthy, and taking top honors here besides Pawulski is Danny Miller in his chillingly reprehensible portrayal of a teen who purely enjoys intimidation and the subsequent reactions of such an overpowering display of emotion. This movie, with its unflinching barbaric instances of vehemence, proves that you don’t need a bunch of makeup or CGI in order to put a monster on display – you just need to get a look at how the world works in today’s society.
Unapologetic, unwavering, and uneasy to stomach, Cruel Summer still manages to reel in its viewers and shake them with a matter-of-fact seriousness that even the blindest eye cannot ignore. Escott and Newman make the most out of their maiden feature-film voyage, and this summer is not only cruel, but eye-opening as well. This one’s not to be missed – give it a look if you have the chance.