It seems that every now and then a teen drama comes around and breaks the obvious adult pandering to fish for adolescent money and tell a story with teenage characters that actually feel real. We get this rarely with Hollywood films, so we look to the sleepy indie side of filmmaking like 2004’s Mean Creek or even Kings of Summer from a couple years back. What these films do for me is let me reminisce to a time in my life that I can completely relate to and a lot of what these characters are going through. In the case of the new film Sleeping Giant, I had more happiness just knowing that the movie was tackling a story I found interesting and it is also Canadian, and a good Canadian film to boot.
One big obstacle that some Canadian films have trouble clearing is good acting and, with a story featuring young central characters, you’re placing a large responsibility on the shoulders of people just starting out. It’s harsh to say, but the first establishing moments with a new actor makes or breaks the compelling nature of the film. The aforementioned Mean Creek had Rory Culkin to anchor it and Kings of Summer had a great line up of Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso and Moises Arias. These components are crucial to this genre and it looks like writer and director Andrew Cividino knew this because Sleeping Giant’s cast has you hooked very quickly. For me, it dealt with things all too familiar.
The film centers around three boys spending a summer in the country cottages on Lake Superior. From a middle class family, Adam is up at the lake with his mother and father and meets Riley and Nate, two cousins staying with Nate’s grandmother. Adam is a shy and obviously innocent but curious kid and quickly starts getting picked on by the angry and destructive alpha dog, Nate. Sometimes, trying to help Adam deal with Nate’s aggressive attitude, Riley usually kowtows to whatever ideas Nate comes up with.
Slowly, over time, the two start rubbing off on Adam more and more as they expose him to marijuana, drinking and constant talking of sexual conquests. Despite Nate’s constant berating of Adam, saying that he hates him constantly, the tag-along starts to exhibit some animosity towards his parents and, notably, his father after being told some scandalous information about him. As Nate seemingly strives towards driving a wedge in Adam’s family, Riley begins to enjoy spending time with Adam and his family, the most normalcy he’s known, which seems to cause issues between him and his cousin.
There’s so much of these three characters killing time doing oddball and destructive things to keep from boredom that I think it could possibly trigger a lot of memories with people. Who hasn’t been a part of or witnessed varying degrees of peer pressure or that desperation to fit in and be accepted. Adam is such a sympathetic character in this sense because I feel we’ve all been at this juncture at the end of our last precocious moment as we’re exposed to the seedy underbelly of life. Nate seems to embody the complete opposite nature of the innocent Adam and seeks to destroy that for his own satisfaction.
It’s a very brave first feature for Andrew Cividino, to take on a story like this with so much of the film being hinged on the reality of it, but he makes it all work well. I feel it’s all due to his close relationship with the two actors that play Nate and Riley, Reece Moffett and Nick Serino, who are reprising their roles from Cividino’s short film of the same name in 2014, albeit with different character names. Their chemistry together, being cousins in real life, make the actor hired to play Adam, Jackson Martin, just as much an outsider to them as actors as his character feels towards them.
Cividino also has a brilliant eye for quiet and contemplative nature scenes that border on brilliant and sometimes reflect the awful nature that these kids can exhibit, especially the moment in which Adam seems to embrace his new calling and burns a bug alive with a wooden match. On one hand, we can say that, well, it’s just a bug, but I felt it was addressing something far more sinister, the ability for Adam to turn his back on who he is and instead embrace the person that made these two friends and who they want him to be. The more horrifying fact is he looks like he enjoys it. That may be the saddest part of all.
Doing very well on the festival scene, Sleeping Giant may be that buzz movie that helps Canadian films turn the corner and find more respect as well as attendance from audiences. No, this film isn’t well publicised and a broad target group won’t know of its existence but film fans who just take a moment to Google or watch the trailer on YouTube should be intrigued enough to give the movie at least thirty minutes of their time and, really, that’s all the time Andrew Cividino needs to get his hooks into you. I give Sleeping Giant a four out of five.