A group of 14-year-old hoodlums ditch school and gather at the graffiti marked foundations of a dilapidated building within some nearby woods. Their plan is to simply hang out, grill some burgers and drink a couple beers. While tooling around the wooded trails in a stolen moped that had been brought along, they accidentally hit Peter, a drifter searching the woods for his lost dog. At first the teens are wary of Peter, him being an adult and all, but quickly warm up to him as he takes on an almost Peter Pan role – becoming both a peer and a mentor. But things take a sinister turn when Peter’s personality continually shifts back-and-forth between kindred spirit and a man with some severe mental issues. Before long, Peter will not let any of the kids leave the woods as he attempts to teach the boys some life lessons, and ratchets up his “tough love” style of teaching to humiliating and criminal levels.
Released under TLA Releasing‘s After Dark banner, Summer Scars is a dark, coming-of-age story in the same vein as Stand By Me. It is a slow-burner that has no real message aside from showing the viewer a life changing incident experienced by a young group of friends. British director Julian Richards stated that the film was based on actual events that the he and some of his friends experienced in his youth while playing in some woods. This claim does not seem far-fetched to me as I also spent a large chunk of my youth in some neighborhood woods with my friends and God knows I got a few stories of my own to tell.
Since this film takes place in the woods and in with a group of teenagers, Summer Scars success rested in large part to the acting of these kids. I was not disappointed in the slightest as Julian Richards has assembled an excellent cast who all deliver some top-notch performances. Opting to use actual kids around the same age as the characters they would be portraying, I cannot remember one point in the movie where I saw anyone acting. The kids talk and behave like you’d think, their doubts and confusion peeking through their hard shell, smartass exteriors.
Bingo (Ciaran Joyce) and Paul (Jonathan Jones) are the two alpha males who consistently jockey for position within their group. LeAnne (Amy Harvey), is the lone female of the gang and I felt Harvey had the hardest job of the bunch because of it. Luckily for the film, she pulls it off because while not always readily apparent, her character is the focal point of the movie. I was surprised at just how well she handled playing the young girl within a group of young boys, but the excellent job she did in the film’s final moments. But the true achievement was Richard’s ability to sell this group to the viewer through their actions and dialog. I recognized a bit of my younger self in all of them, and each character reminded me of friends I had in my youth.
Kevin Howarth plays the mentally unstable Peter, and hands in an unsettling performance. He is a purposely vague character, Richards giving few hints as to his background. Even though warning bells will go off in your head when he first appears, it is hard not to feel a little sympathy for the character in the beginning. A loner and probably homeless military vet, Peter obviously enjoys the company of the kids as well as their initial acceptance. Peter attempts to help the boys into manhood by giving misguided advice and it is usually during these exercises that the unstable side of him emerges, appearing as quick as a sprung mousetrap. Summer Scars has no gore or extreme violence, but when Peter goes into one of his flash flood tempers, his actions are disturbing as it is quite visible that he is not always in control of them. At first using his age and size to bully the group, he eventually resorts to physical violence and a pellet gun as he subjects the kids to some extreme humiliation.
With a run-time of a little over an hour, Summer Scars is lean with no padding. This allows the film to do more in developing its characters than most 90-minute blockbusters of a similar nature. Richards is able to tell the story as well as get in just enough material for the viewer to formulate some of the kids backstories. This helps flesh them out a bit and make the characters feel as if they existed before you were introduced to them and will do so after the end credits. Richards also shows a bit of the often cruel hierarchy that exists within the microcosm of kids – in which younger kids are fearful of the older kids and all kids are wary of adults.
If you like films like Over the Edge or Mean Creek, give this one a go. Even if your childhood experiences never included anything as extreme as the ones seen in Summer Scars, I am betting you will still relate to these kids, and that you have a similar story to share.
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