As we get older, the bogeyman in the mask doesn’t seem scary anymore.
While we are all excited over the news that a new Halloween film is coming next year, 99% of us horror veterans know right now that it’s not going to be scary but just hope that it can be fun, to remind us of the golden days when Michael ruled Haddonfield. Horror for us these days comes in different forms. It could be two boys knocking on a door and asking to borrow an egg, or it could be parents wanting a night out and hiring a babysitter who is far from what she seems.
In other words, the most scariest thing for us now is when horror takes us on path that is well familiar to us. When the man from our nightmares is not wearing a razor glove and a striped jumper, but comes in the shape of a person we know. Someone who could be living next door or the guy who walks his dog every morning. There is nothing more scary than us – the humans- as we are more than capable of inflicting the worst pain imaginable on our kind.
You don’t have to see a zombie rise from the depths of Camp Crystal Lake to be terrified, when all you can do is see an innocent young man go camping one night and be subject to an ordeal that will leave you shaking and worried for the world we live in.
Cruel Summer, a debut by directing duo Phillip Escott and Craig Newman, is a film that will live with you long after the credits have rolled. We all know a Nicholas, played memorably here by Danny Miller. A young man, lost in life, angry and confused, who has just lost his girlfriend due to his own fault, even though he refuses to admit it. We all know a Julia (Natalie Martins), a young woman who is so besotted with Nicholas that she will say and do anything just to appease him.
It’s thanks to the words that come out of her mouth that the events on-screen spiral out of control. Whilst trying to reassure Nicholas that he can do better than that “girl”, she tells him about the fact that she was never a virgin and actually slept with the disabled kid and several others. While the film never reveals if this is true or not, we can only assume that she is blatantly lying, just to have this guy all to herself, not realising the pent up anger that is inside the man she clearly wants to be with.
Ignoring the other “several guys”, a jealous Nicholas turns his focus to Danny (played beautifully by Richard Pawulski) – a lovely young man who suffers from autism who has just left his home to spend the night in the woods to achieve his Duke Of Edinburgh award. We don’t spent that much time with the character but what we see is more than enough to get us on his side. Despite his condition, he refuses to let it get in his way and as he says goodbye to his Mam and Dad, not before stopping off at camping shop where we meet the most unsympathetic shop keeper, he sets up in the woods to do a bit of fishing and bask in the peace and quiet.
Unbeknown to him, a storm is coming in the shape of Nicholas and Julia who also recruit a third person in the shape of Calvin (Reece Douglas), an innocent tag along, who is told that Danny is nothing but a rapist and a paedophile that needs stopping once and for all. It’s clear that Julia is not taking the threats from Nicholas seriously enough and as they go into the woods looking for this young man, the sense of foreboding dread begins to hit the screen. When they do come across his tent, most of us will know what is coming, but the film just won’t allow us to look away.
As a father and a guy who has a disability within my own family, I found Cruel Summer such a gruelling watch. It’s one of those rare moments where you just want to step into the film and stop what you seeing on screen. As the events unfold, the tension creaks to such an effect that you just want to help the young man, but knowing you can’t makes you feel helpless and drained, because I be honest with you its not a comfortable watch.
The beauty of the film is that despite the topic and the fact that this is inspired by true events, Escott and Newman, wisely opt not to show the true horrors unfold. By allowing the film to cut away when the horrific acts start, we the viewer are left with just our imagination and the sound coming from the screen. Gore hounds may sigh at this notion, but this technique is rarely used in horrors these days and its a shame because there is nothing more powerful that what your own mind can imagine. Sometimes less is more and it makes this film much better for it (or worse).
Echoes of Eden Lake will no doubt be made, but I have to be honest and say Cruel Summer is a much superior tale. While that James Watkins film is a really good watch, the tone of each film is different. While one sets out to shock and ramp up the finale, the other slowly builds, relying on our own fears to bring the scares. They are as different as say an Itchy and Scratchy cartoon is to any work by Hayao Miyazaki.
This is not a date movie, or something you can just chuck on for a weekend entertainment while eating your takeaway, Cruel Summer is a horrific film that you will find no enjoyment out of and if you do, then seriously, you need help. It showcases just why the human race are such damaged goods and will leave you kissing and hugging your children that little bit extra at bedtime.
It will leave you questioning those around you and taking a camping trip all on your own and when the final credits roll, you probably want to watch a comedy like Jason Lives, just to release the tension in your own living room, because make no mistake, Cruel Summer is one of those rare breeds in the modern age, a proper horror film……
4 Hatchets Out Of 5