Inspired loosely by true events, a teenager with autism, Danny (Richard Pawulski), ventures into the serene countryside as part of his Duke of Edinburgh Award. Little does he know, however, that classmate Nicholas (Danny Miller from Emmerdale) is ruthlessly tracking him down as a result of a vicious lie created by Julia (Natalie Martins). Having also recruited Calvin (Reece Douglas) to join them, the group begin to close in on Danny but Nicholas’ behaviour spirals out of control and Julia must decide whether to continue the lie.

Ultimately, Cruel Summer is a story of peer pressure and bullying taken too far. The themes that play throughout are made all the more disturbing as they are not only relatable within British society but they are entirely possible. Our narrative opens to Danny as he prepares for his trip to the Welsh countryside down to the very last detail before introducing Nicholas (Miller) who has been dumped by his girlfriend – hinting that this could be due to his temper. Go-ed by Julia who  tells him that poor Danny slept with his ex, Nicholas rallies himself up – convincing himself that innocent Danny is actually a pedophile who raped a young girl in the woods and must be taught a brutal lesson.

The build-up is slow but sure. Shot beautifully, Cruel Summer juxtapositions the two lives of Nicholas and Danny in its statement on modern-day youth culture. Filled with shots of sun-lit greenery and babbling brooks as Danny walks through the picturesque countryside, this is used against the cold concrete landscape of Nicholas and Julia’s local streets. And, whilst Nicholas is out stealing alcohol and cigarettes from the local corner shop, Danny sits peacefully by the lake and fishes. With similarities to Eden Lake (James Watkins, 2008) and Preservation (Christopher Denham, 2014), the film portrays how bored teenagers can go to terrifying extremes and find trouble whether they go looking for it or not. Whilst it is not to say that all youths are capable of brutality, we see how quickly a situation can turn sour.

The performances in Cruel Summer are ultimately believable even if there a few cheesy lines of dialogue and moments where shouting is mistaken for acting (otherwise known as the Nicolas Cage effect). However, the dialogue and actions by Nicholas, Julia and Calvin are believable – thus adding to the realism of the narrative overall. The characters, however, are not given a great deal of depth and it is uncertain as to whether this is deliberate. Danny simply has autism whilst Nicholas is just plain nasty with no real background or reasoning. Furthermore, why Julia liked him enough to come up with such a vicious lie is entirely absurd.

In terms of production, Cruel Summer presents an attractively shot but sobering tale. Whilst it’s difficult to find such a morbid narrative enjoyable, it makes for a powerful statement on youth culture which deserves to be seen.

Horror Channel Frightfest review: Cruel Summer
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Sophie is a film blogger from South London with a degree in Film Theory and Major Production. Sophie currently works in digital marketing but in her spare time you'll find her writing reviews or at the cinema. Sophie loves all things Star Wars and Hollywood but having specialized in the Horror genre, monsters are her first love. She'll watch absolutely anything given the chance - you can find her also on her blog, Twitter: