Plot: Danny (Richard Pawulski) is an autistic teen who is about to head into the woods for a solo camping excursion, an event he is well prepared for and is quite excited to undertake. Meanwhile, Nicholas (Danny Miller) has just been dumped by his girlfriend and learned some upsetting news from his friend Julia (Natalie Martins). She tells him that his beloved ex had been with several other guys, including Danny, a lie designed to distance him from his ex. She wants Nicholas for herself, but her claims push him beyond simple jealousy and he vows to settle the score with Danny, even if that means violence. Soon Nicholas is on the hunt, trying to track down Danny and soon a battle for survival is on in the remote woods.
Entertainment Value: I love a wild, over the top horror movie, but sometimes a simple, grounded narrative can offer more scares than a supernatural maniac with a machete, as the sense of realism can work wonders. In the case of Cruel Summer, that realism is quite well crafted and the movie keeps the story believable, as a lie spirals out of control and tensions escalate. I do think some might dislike how direct and simple the movie is, as there’s not much depth or complexities, but to me that raw, simple approach is why Cruel Summer works. Nicholas’ aggression is an extreme overreaction and Julia’s scheme is sadistic, but these actions mirror real life, where people have killed and tormented others over much less. The tone is dark and the tension is consistent, gaining steam as the finale approaches. In the end, Cruel Summer is a lean, believable horror/thriller that feels grounded and realistic. If you’re a fan of indie horror or survival based horror, well worth a shot.
There’s some humiliation involved, but no nakedness. A theme that runs throughout is how Nicholas can’t handle that other men might have touched his girlfriend, so there is some sexual element in the narrative. As you can imagine, things boil over and some violence is unleashed, but it is mostly limited to the finale. Those moments are dealt with like the rest of the narrative, in a grounded fashion that has palpable realism and to me, that makes the violence more impactful. There’s some bloodshed, but not to over the top levels, just bursts of brutality and realistic violence. The finale is tense and nasty however, without question. The dialogue is basic, but effective and Nicholas’ hate filled persona supplies most of the memorable moments. The intense finale and general mean spirited atmosphere earns a couple of crazy points, but overall this is a grounded, more than believable approach.
Overall Insanity: 2/10