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Review: Summer In The Shade – “You’ll find yourself drawn into the story like a great page-turner of a novel.”

It seems like an increasingly shining age for female filmmakers, and it couldn’t happen soon enough.

Internationally, the likes of Kathryn Bigelow and Patty Jenkins are getting rightful plaudits along with Julia Ducournau.  The UK has Lynne Ramsay and now with truly brilliant movies like Saint Maud (by Rose Glass) and Censor (Prano Bailey-Bond), these islands can be justifiably proud of their female film talent.

Summer in the Shade, the feature debut of Alice Millar is a coming-of-age story, not a horror like Saint Maud or Censor.   However, it arguably uses the language and rhythm of horror to tell its story.  One could criticise it by saying not much happens in that story, but it happens very well, with a palpable, beguiling tension woven through it.  It’s refreshing to have a coming-of-age story with a female protagonist, and there is authenticity throughout its short (sub-90-minute) running time.

12-year-old Grace, played by Niamh Walter (remember that name… she could easily be a huge star in the next decade or so) escapes a wealthy but difficult home life with a holiday to Cornwall with her lifelong friend Asta (Nyobi Hendry).  Unlike Grace’s parents, Asta’s mum Kate is young and bohemian, echoed in the vivacity of her daughter, which contrasts again with the more sullen, religious Grace.

That’s not to say the protagonist is unlikeable, but she is complicated and troubled.  Her religion paints her growing sexuality with a veneer of guilt.  Her conditioning answers her curiosity negatively before it can express itself organically.  She’s confused by a combination of her nature, the baggage of her upbringing, and the growing attention of men, all of which are powerfully conveyed through the writing and Walter’s acting, which is excellent.

The story is set in 1997 and is likely semi-biographical.  Other than a lack of mobile phones and a passing reference to Diana, there is no obvious plot reason for that setting, but once again, this is very much a character piece rather than a plot-driven story.

Millar started her career as a cinematographer, which is clear from some striking shots throughout the film.  The music choices are strong, and the sound design is excellent throughout, constantly feeding the atmosphere with dark, briny energy.

Some of the acting besides’ Walter’s leaves a little to be desired and if one were being mean, it could be said that this has the feel of a debut feature throughout and the clear sense of someone working out their issues on the screen.  Kate’s character is telegraphed a little.  There are certainly people who won’t like this.  It’s not a Marvel movie.

However, given the talent involved and the quality of the production, it seems likely that this will be revisited often in future years by those curious to see where some remarkably successful people got their start.

As Millar says, “it is important that [this period of a young girl’s life] is dealt with and acknowledged … as the ramifications of this time can affect an entire life.”  Of course, she’s right, and the film achieves this effortlessly.  It is worthwhile without being “worthy.”

If that makes it sound like heavy going, then I’ve failed in the review.  You’ll want to know where this is going, you’ll find yourself drawn into the story like a great page-turner of a novel.  It might be a coming-of-age story, it might have the language of horror, but it has the execution and swagger of a good psychological thriller.

Summer in the Shade will be available for digital download on June 20th.

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  1. Brilliant

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