When one sees certain distribution companies attached to a film, they develop a thought about what that movie likely is, it’s like judge the cover of a DVD to decide if you should invest the time for enjoyment, well Cruel Summer comes from Wild Eye Releasing. Yes, the company responsible for developing low budget wonders such as Raiders of the Lost Shark (2015) and The Last House (2015), among countless others, however this is a pleasant surprise as they took a new path with this movie. The fans of this company should take this new journey and discover this movie for themselves. Directors and writers Phillip Escott and Craig Newman make their feature-length film debut and use that familiar tag line of ‘based on true events’, which increasingly becomes tiresome of late. Nevertheless, they create a heighten sense of terror and doom, while in an interview they mention the script and concept come from a series of true life crimes. This horror features young individuals carrying out psychotic behaviors of sickness on someone different than them, a basis used in films and television episodes.
The overall plot follows the path of a thriller, basic in story but well executed with regard to the pacing, cinematography and aided by the cast. Escott and Newman work early on to show the two main parties involved in this tale, clearly noting that human monsters exist in real life and in all forms. They might be a store owner, neighbors and even classmates or co-workers, Stephen King once stated that human monsters are far scarier the on-screen ones. The viewer follows Danny (Richard Pawulski), an autistic teen who arranges and plans for his trip to the wilderness with his parents blessing (nervous but understand the reasoning). He knows everything for his trip, how to camp and fish to him all is right in his world, escaping the judgmental stares, humiliation and sickening lies rumored about him. Meanwhile predators swarm, a vengeful youth Nicholas (Danny Miller) barely knows him however thanks to a lie by Julia (Natalie Martins (The Barge People )), he’s ready to rid the world of Danny. Nicholas tricks a new neighborhood teen Calvin (Reece Douglas) by informing him that Danny’s a pedophile hunting young children and need to teach him a lesson. The movie takes the time to build suspense and show that the human monsters take time to work their courage up, aided by alcohol, Nicholas grows more impatient and dominating his factious authority over Calvin and Julia. Miller convincingly plays his character with a growing sinister vibe, allowing himself to become more immersed in the character slowly, refreshing to watch, rather than a brash quick assault.
In addition, the filmmakers work to giving an honest appeal and look of the character Danny (and Pawulski shows his vulnerability and yet a sincere young man). It’s always interesting to see how new filmmakers treat the subject of mental health, society talks about it often but very rarely does it appear in films in accurate displays. Often the character portrayed as silly individuals unable to control themselves, or poorly educated unraveling into maddening psychotics. However, in this film Danny keeps a positive mindset perhaps unaware of how others see him as in one scene an ill-tempered store employee finds frustration, while Danny stays the course and the viewers exudes the sympathy.
The story construction works in a timeline allowing the viewer to know the countdown (the trip’s departure day) in creating a slow slimmer of tension, allowing the beauty of nature to grow, treating the peaceful tranquility and the richness of vibrant color of the wilderness, all awaiting the impending doom and gloom from the monsters. As the filmmakers try to show the ignorance and impulsive behaviors of other characters, it becomes a tad too fleeting, and it appears at times more as Nicholas versus Danny battle, while Calvin, Julia and Danny’s parents all play a secondary role, diminishing screen time. The conveyance shown with images and dialogue all move the story to the likely conclusion of graphic blood spatter, done primary off screen, likely a budgetary concern, although the movie never suffers from the lack of it.
Cruel Summer, generates a slow burn and lures the viewers in with insensitive language actions of youthful monsters hiding in plain sight as humans. While the movie doesn’t have an overall horror theme, thriller moments and violence by the end will satisfy some, and yet recalling for a moment it’s a Wild Eye Releasing flick, likely interest others to discover this movie.
IMDb Rating: 5.5/10
Baron’s Rating: 6.5/10