During the question and answer session after the premiere of Cruel Summer at the 2016 FrightFest a woman in the crowd stood and stated that although she had thought the film was powerful and compelling it should not have been shown at FrightFest.
Her argument aimed towards the filmmakers Phillip Escott and Craig Newman and the festivals own Ian Rattray who had programmed the screening was that the film was not horror but horrible being that it was based on several real life accounts of the brutal beatings and torture of teens by their peers.
She came to FrightFest to watch escapist horror full of fun frights, laughable gore and scintillating scares and something this realistic, this visceral, this current, this unsetting had jarred her out of her comfort zone leaving her questioning the definition of the genre and Cruel Summer’s place within it.
As upsetting and disturbing as I found Cruel Summer I felt its place at FrightFest was extremely valid not only because the festival should showcase new and emerging talent especially from the U.K rather than become bogged down in big budget Hollywood offerings but also because the horror genre to me is wonderfully wide and fluid allowing movies such as this to get a screening when they might not otherwise have been seen by an audience.
Also horror should challenge its audience and Cruel Summer most definitely does that as the controversial Q&A women discovered being that it documents several days in the life of autistic teen Danny (Richard Pawulski) who takes himself off camping alone in the isolated countryside as part of his Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme where he is ultimately attacked.
Unbeknownst to Danny he has become the target of the hate filled Nicholas (Danny Miller) who having just been dumped blames the innocent boy for his misery a conclusion egged on by the trouble stirring Julia (Natalie Martins) who is love sick for Nicholas.
Setting off to track Danny down and punish him for this ever increasingly more elaborate lie the pair rope in newbie Calvin (Reece Douglas) promising a fun day out all the while aware that the threesome harbor darker desires when they finally face their entirely harmless and guiltless target.
All the main performances are excellent especially Richard Pawulski but credit is also due to Danny Miller and Natalie Martins who somehow infuse utterly unlikable characters with the tiniest seed of sympathy, relatability and pathos before plunging them into the worst examples of society.
Also the exploration of peer pressure through Reece Douglas’s Calvin is immensely interesting and possible the only area where Cruel Summer attempts to offer some kind of explanation as to why these terrible crimes occur in reality.
Making the audience aware from the opening of the terrible pointless punishment the trio will deliver to Danny then moving back to the morning before it all happens places a dread filled ticking clock over the proceedings as the characters move towards their destructive and depressing destiny.
All of this makes Cruel Summer a difficult movie to watch as it pulls no punches in its presentation of a horrific senseless crime that sadly features all too often in the media in modern times. However you define horror I for one am glad it was shown at FrightFest and that it is now getting a full release because it most definitely deserves to be seen.