Cruel Summer (2016) Triple Six Festival Review

rsz_cruel_summer_posterCruel Summer (2016)

Screened at The Triple Six Horror Film Festival , Manchester 28th May 2017

Directors/Writers: Phillip Escott, Craig Newman

Stars: Danny Miller, Reece Douglas, Richard Pawulski

Out Now on UK DVD & On Demand

Shot over what must have been ten of the most intense shooting days in cinema production history, Cruel Summer has proved to be an incredibly divisive film. In its screenings at Frightfest and Manchester’s recent Triple 6 Horror festival, audiences have been sharply divided and Q&A sessions with directors and writers Phillip Escott and Craig Newman have escalated from relaxed talking shops into heated debates.

Small wonder considering the tough subject matter on display. The story follows autistic teenager Danny (Richard Pawulski) who is camping on his own for the first time to gain his Duke of Edinburgh award. Meanwhile, bitter, violent local youth, Nicholas (Emmerdale’s Danny Miller) who egged on by a lie over an affair from jealous friend Julia (Natalie Martins), hunts down and tortures Danny along with a third friend Calvin (Waterloo Road’s Reece Douglas).

It is, without question, one of the toughest films I have ever had to watch and do not want to watch again anytime soon. This is not a knock against the film though. Escott and Newman have delivered one of the most important and brilliant pieces of British filmmaking in years. The subject matter can be, at best, described as thoroughly harrowing. My emotions were entirely drained by the end and I was left with a seething, boiling anger over the events I had just witnessed. So much so that I had to head outside and decompress afterwards.

rsz_cs1Comparisons I heard were to Cannibal Holocaust and Last House on the Left, those comparisons do this film a disservice as it has far more in common with the works of Shane Meadows, Mike Leigh and Ben Wheatley, presenting a gritty realism but is not cheap, gross or exploitative. Much of the brutality is actually unseen, down to superb directing and editing. It is the oppressive intensity. The hopelessness of the situation. The grim, pointless mess of it all that works you over.

Escott and Newman based the story on a number of different cases that have happened in Britain in recent years and the subject matter is treated with great care and sensitivity.

The performances from the four lead actors are incredible. Miller, not shy of getting to grips with meaty storylines is excellent as the psychotic, hateful slimeball Nicholas. Just thinking about the character is enough to raise my hackles again. Puwulski also pulls off an astonishing performance as Danny, avoiding using tropes that so often inadvertently mock those with mental disabilities. A word on Natalie Martins too, who produces a more restrained but equally outstanding performance as the jealous Julia. Clearly in love with Danny but jealous over his infatuation to the point of egging him into committing a heinous and besotted with him to the point where she goes along with it to the end.

rsz_cs2Cruel Summer will not entertain in any traditional sense but it educates, informs and elicits the necessary feelings of disgust, dismay and anger from the audience. In a time where hate crimes have spiked, tacitly encouraged by a vile and mean-spirited government keen to target the most vulnerable in society, Cruel Summer is an important film about hate crimes and the mindless violence of a lost generation of underclass youth.

Cruel Summer (2015) Review


Written & Directed by Philip Escott and Craig Newman

Starring Danny Miller, Reece Douglas, Natalie Martins and Richard Pawulski

“Young autism sufferer Danny enjoys the serenity and solitude of camping. That’s all about to change when enraged teens Nicholas, Calvin and Julia find him, each with their own agenda for wanting to see Danny suffer”. By Philip Escott via IMDb.

Starting with an off-the-cuff lie in the spate of the moment, and leading to a prolonged scene of sheer horrific brutality, Cruel Summer is the kind of bruising, close to the bone experiences that we Brits really have a knack for.

When volatile teen Nicholas is dumped by his girlfriend Lisa after a row, his anger is fuelled when his friend (and number one fan) Julia tells him that Lisa lost her virginity not to him, but to autistic loner Danny, who goes to their school. Why does she tell him this? Why does he believe what is obviously a lie? And why do they tell new kid Calvin that Danny is a paedophile when Nicholas sets out on a quest for revenge?

The answers would be too complex and contradictory, and writer/directors Philip Escott and Craig Newman are smart enough to not try and give us any. We are given slight backstories to each character, but it’s irrelevant. This story is all about making one decision and whether you follow it through or not. Right or wrong, cowardly or brave, individual or follower…what are you?

What is made evident is that these three characters feel they have nowhere to go in life, they are lost and angry and, although they know of the consequences, they just don’t care. Or they do, but only when it’s too late.

The performances here are outstanding. Danny Miller evokes Jack O’Connell and Tom Hardy in his volcanic, unstable Nicholas, not satisfied unless he is causing trouble, and determined to drag others with him. Natalie Martins is possibly the most troubling character, displaying sociopathic tendencies as she puts on a different mask for everyone she meets, and willing to do anything to make Nicholas happy. Reece Douglas is the guy who is good deep down but does he have the courage to do what’s right. He is the moral compass, and while his decisions aren’t always right, they are understandable. Richard Pawulski gives a brave and authentic portrayal of autism, never slipping out of character and never once demanding our sympathies. But he gets them anyway. Every performance and every line and every action felt authentic, lived in, real.

Beautifully shot on location, Cruel Summer recalls hoody horror Eden Lake in themes but not in execution. There is no Hollywood heroics, no easy character arcs and nothing out of the realms of possibility. This feels like it could happen now, today. A mundane tragedy that is all too common.

What hits hardest about this film is that most viewers will probably have known, or suffered at the hands of kids like these at one point or more in their lives. I certainly did when I was younger. I’ve been a follower, done stupid things to fit in with the “popular” crowd. And I’ve regretted it and thankfully managed to move away from them, severing the ties. Some of them have grown up to be very respectable I believe.

Others, not so much. And that’s the most powerful thing a film can do, make you confront your own demons. After this, I just wanted to make sure my family was ok. To lock my doors. To watch my back on the street. And Michael Myers never did that. Because real horror is unprovoked, and comes without rationale and without reason from nearby. And that’s what Cruel Summer shows. They should show this to teens in school. To show that the kids who do this kind of thing, they never look cool. The never look brave. They just look like senseless, dangerous, hopeless idiots.

Any complaints? Not really. Some of the musical score sometimes feels distracting, but is mostly great. The scenes on screen are so powerful this would work with no score at all. But that’s a minor nitpick.

At 1hr 18mins, and with a slow-burn High Noon structure of impending doom that you just can’t take your eyes off, I can’t recommend Cruel Summer enough. It’s one of the most brave, uncompromising films I’ve seen in a very long time, and I cannot wait for whatever Philip Escott and Craig Newman come up with next.

A day can start off like any other, and end with the most horrific tragedy imaginable.

Find this, and watch this. It’s important.