Sleeping Giant, 2015.
Directed by Andrew Cividino
Starring Jackson Martin, Reece Moffett, Nick Serino and David Disher.
Expanding upon his award winning short of the same name, Andrew Cividino’s story follows three teenage boys forced to while away their summer in a sleepy Canadian resort town. At first, cousins Riley (Reece Moffett) and Nate (Nick Serino) encourage Adam (Jackson Martin) to engage in minor vandalism, throwing eggs at houses and the like in a bid to escape the monotony of their vacation. Gradually though, tensions escalate between the three of them until the boys suddenly find themselves in real danger.
Movies based on young adult novels are also aimed at young adults, so naturally, the teenagers in these stories tend to be represented in a positive light. As we all know though, young adults are just people at the end of the day and like any other people. teenagers can be both kind and cruel at times… a harsh reality that Cividino brings to the fore in his debut feature film.
The entire premise of Sleeping Giant hinges on the performances of the central trio and fortunately, all three excel, awkwardly capturing the extremes of teenage life in a way that should feel uncomfortably familiar to us all. The two cousins are played by newcomers Moffett and Serino who already appeared in the short that Sleeping Giant is based on, while Martin makes a subtle impact in the role of Adam, whose quiet arrival at the lake creates friction between Riley and Nate.
We first meet the trio wrestling together on the beach and already, tensions become apparent as gentle horseplay is taken a step too far. Cividino’s script works best at its most naturalistic, refusing to adhere to the conventions typically associated with coming of age films. No explicit introductions are given. We simply drift into the lives of these boys, gradually learning more and more about them as one would in real life.
Nate is clearly the most unlikable of the three. His brash personality and destructive outlook are grating to watch thanks to a standout performance from Serino, but what makes him so irritating is how authentic his portrayal feels. Unfortunately, we’ve all met boys like Nate before, so it’s a credit to Cividino’s scripting that evades caricature by gradually cutting through the bravado, providing a glimpse of why Nate acts the way he does.
For the most part, Nate’s insecurities arise as his cousin drifts away from him and closer to Adam, a boy whose sexual identity remains ambiguous throughout Sleeping Giant. Hints of homosexuality or at least sexual uncertainty are hinted at, but refreshingly, these are never made explicit. While most independent movies would have been tempted to openly reveal Adam’s sexuality, Cividino opts for a more subtle approach, encouraging viewers to read between the lines of his social interactions.
Cividino has an incredible ear for teenage voices, writing dialogue that feels 100% improvised and not even remotely forced, which is something of a rarity in any film starring young adults these days. The naturalistic performances are heightened by extreme close ups that are sporadically used to enhance the underlying intensity of the boys relationships, creating an atmosphere that at once feels both mundane and at times menacing.
James Klopko’s crisp lensing is absolutely stunning, showcasing the expansive surroundings of the lake alongside close ups of the natural wildlife. Much like the central relationships of the boys, these calmer moments possess a darker undercurrent held just below the surface, perhaps most apparent in a scene towards the end where a beetle slowly dies in the flames of a camp fire. Likewise, the titular cliff is beautiful to behold, but contains an element of danger that is foreshadowed early on when the boys visit a stoner in his mobile home.
Moments like this make it easy to see where the narrative is leading at times, but rather than spoil the ending, these scenes actually enhance the quiet tension held throughout. As is often the case with films of its kind, Sleeping Giant ends on an ambiguous note, pulling us away just as the ramifications of the movies climax are felt. Some may feel cheated by this, but in reality, it’s hard to imagine where else Cividino’s script could have lead and if anything, it’s more fitting that Sleeping Giant ends in this way. Just as we wandered into the boys lives at the start of the summer, we leave in the same manner, gradually drifting away like a summer haze.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★