Cruel Summer

It's nice to be able to get away from it all once in a while. Teenager Danny Evans (Richard Pawulski) loves camping, for example, and in Cruel Summer he's planning a camping weekend on his own as part of his Duke of Edinburgh Award. Everything has to be just so -- he's high-functioning, but he is autistic, and he puts a great deal of effort into being prepared for everything.

Meanwhile, Julia (Natalie Martins), wearing the largest earrings you've ever seen, is suffering with a hopeless crush on Nicholas (Danny Miller). His girlfriend Lisa has just dumped him and he's calling her terrible names and generally ranting to Julia about it, completely ignoring the fact that she likes him. The surprise here is not that Nicholas was dumped, but that he managed to get a girl to go out with him for any length of time in the first place.

In a desperate bid for attention, Julia tells Nicholas that Lisa was not the nice girl she seemed, but had in fact slept with all sorts of boys. Pressed for names, she gives him Danny's, and this gives Nicholas all the excuse he needs to start getting crazier and crazier. Through taunts and out and out lies, he convinces a new kid in the area, Calvin (Reece Douglas), to join them in their hunt for Danny.

Julia and Calvin treat their mission more as a chance to wander around town and have fun, not realizing how deathly serious Nicholas is. They argue that there isn't much chance of finding a single person out camping in a large woods anyway, but Nicholas is very good at bullying his friends into continuing the search as his rage compels him to find a target for a bloody showdown.

The build of tension is a little uneven at times, but despite most of the cast being young the acting is realistic and compelling. It's inspired by an actual case from 2005, which is perhaps the most horrific thing about it -- it's unsettling to realize that it can be so easy for a situation to get out of control, or perhaps to realize that the situation was never under control in the first place.

I'll give it four out of five. There's an excellent juxtaposition of the beauty of the woods and water and the cruelty of Nicholas and his semi-reluctant allies that draws the viewer in, despite wanting to look away at times. Sometimes teenagers can be amazingly terrifying.

Calvin tries to stand up to Nicholas, with mixed results.


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