Cruel 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.
Comparisons 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.
Cruel 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.