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Directed by Phillip Escott, Craig Newman
Written by Phillip Escott, Craig Newman
Starring Richard Pawulski, Danny Miller, Reece Douglas, Natalie Martins, Gary Knowles, Grace Dixon, Leah Rees, Thomas Conning
Find out more about this film here

Horror comes in many shapes and sizes, but for me, it’s enjoyable when there is a bit of a distance between the reality on the screen and my own. Films based on real life horrors can be interesting and entertaining, but more times than not, I get a rather uneasy feeling while watching those types of horrors as they are supposed to be based on truth. I can watch an undead man-monster rise from a lake and murder campers all day long, but show me a scene of real life bullying, as shown in films like Poland’s THE PLAYGROUND and the film that is the subject of this review, CRUEL SUMMER, and I can barely take it.

A young mentally challenged teen named Danny (Richard Pawulski) ventures into the woods alone for the first time in hopes to receive a Boy Scouts merit badge. When another kid his age Nicholas (Danny Miller) hears a false rumor that the handicapped kid slept with his girlfriend last summer, he bullies his friends Julia (Natalie Martins) and Calvin (Reece Douglas) to hunt him down in the woods and torture him. Labeling Danny as a pedophile, the three kids find Danny and intend to teach him a lesson.

This is an especially mean spirited movie. While much of the film follows Danny as he makes his way through the woods, sets up his tent, and sets out for a night of wilderness wonder, the bulk of it follows Nicholas, Julia, and Calvin and the violence they enact upon Danny. The latter half hour of this film focuses on Nicholas and crew catching up with Danny and it is almost unwatchable seeing these monsters pick apart the defenseless teen. I will give it to this film. The acting is pretty good and I can see Pawulski, Martins, Douglas, and especially Miller (who plays an utterly convincing piece of shit) going far in their careers given the performances here. Still, this is a tough one to watch as the still moments only remind you that this is not going to end well. And when the bullying, torture, and so on occurs, it makes for some harrowing viewing that I honestly couldn’t really recommend to anyone.

The poster for CRUEL SUMMER suggests some kind of camping slasher film. But that’s not what this movie is. The film sort of relishes in the torture and torment that goes on, never really giving the audience a proper comeuppance for the trio of horrible teens. Only a block of text at the end explaining what happened to each of the kids isn’t enough and only cements the notion that this film, while well made, seems to wallow the horrible acts that occur and only cite some kind of resolution as an afterthought. Focus is often the most telling factor when it comes to the intention of the artist. With CRUEL SUMMER, the focus is on the violence, not resolution as the simple runtime dedicated to the horrible acts upon the innocent. This isn’t the kind of horror I like at all. It’s well acted and directed. But I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone with even a sliver of a soul.

Plus there is not one Bananarama to be heard, so there’s that.