Anyone looking to survive Canadian content restrictions could do a lot worse than Sleeping Giant, a film set by the cottages of Thunder Bay during a summer that could have been anytime from 1980 to 2010 were it not for a lone telling cell phone. However, judging Sleeping Giant on that curve would be wholly unfair, as director Andrew Civindo has created a film with a clear vision, extracted excellent performances from a young cast, and presents numerous beautiful shots. The film understands better than most how teenage boys work, crafting three unique and interesting lead characters. It’s faults are not in being dinky or cliche, but rather in steeping in a bit too much unjustified misery.
The film takes it title from a rock formation in Lake Superior, an uninhabited peninsula surrounded by cottage country. It focuses on three fifteen-ish boys. Firstly, there’s wallflower Adam, who arrives with his middle-class parents. His father wants to connect with him through rote, vaguely bro-ish life lessons, but teaches him the biggest lesson through a secret he harbours. Adam joins up with cousins Riley and Nate, visiting their grandma and both clearly from poorer households (as told in shortcut via smoking and talk of failing math). Riley is an earnest kid, and Adam’s father quickly takes a liking to him; Nate is the type to act out and egg on others in vulgar ways. Each of the kids starts out as a stereotype (particularly Nate), but is shaded in well. By the midpoint, these kids feel developed, and more than that, feel very real and true to the teenage-boy experience. The class struggle between Adam and the cousins nicely bubbles under the surface, and the cousins’ involvement in a potential romance between Adam and long-time friend Taylor throws some chaos into the mix.
But maybe too much chaos. Between the class issues, hormonal complications, and secrets of the father, Sleeping Giant comes dangerously close to melodrama in its final act, unleashed in what is probably the most dramatic game of Settlers of Catan ever played. It survives based on the goodwill it generates leading up to its finale, but never fully recovers in the end. However, all the way through, this is a very memorably visual movie, with upside-down voyeurism and an odd number of long takes of bugs (all of which are great). Civindo relishes in the hijinks, the cliff-jumping and fireworks and play-fighting, all kinetically shot with a great sense of joy and fear. The movie also has perhaps the most realistically stylized first-time-on-pot scene I’ve seen, with slight blurs and lots of cheese puffs. Youth eventually ends, and all can’t be fireworks and cheese puffs, but Sleeping Giant’s sudden disregard for youthful joy in its end is a more bitter pill than it needs to be.
Sleeping Giant (2016)
Dir. Andrew Civindo
Starring Jackson Martin, Reece Moffat, Nick Serino, and David Disher
Rotten Tomatoes (88%)
Spoilery thoughts below
- Looking at many of the other reviews for this film, the love triangle is often presented about being about Taylor. Forgive me if this is a misread, but Adam was gay, right? From his longing looks at Riley, this seemed like only interpretation. That twist in the story, which never played for high-drama, really affects how the final act of the film is viewed, with Adam trying to break up Taylor and Riley but not take the blame, or his confrontation near the seagull with Nate. The movie ends with Adam and Riley on the beach, seemingly making peace, which makes more sense as an ending if Adam’s crush was on Taylor and not Riley, so maybe I’m off-base here.
- So what is there to read out of the death of Nate? He was the only one who wasn’t part of the love triangle, instead used as a pawn by Adam. Yet he is the one punished. Adam’s self-blame is not entirely accurate (Nate made the choice at the end of the day), but if we take him as the intended guilty party, is Nate punished for his sins, a token of what happens when you use people? Riley mentions midway through to Adam that straight-up honesty is the best policy; Nate’s death is the indirect consequence of Adam’s lie.
- How fantastic is the shot of the two bugs having sex, then being splattered, with the left-out bug standing triumphant? A bit on the nose after Adam finds out about Taylor and Riley, but so so very good.