Directed by: Andrew Cividino.
Written by: Andrew Cividino & Blain Watters & Aaron Yeger.
Starring: Jackson Martin (Adam), Reece Moffett (Riley), Nick Serino (Nate), Katelyn McKerracher (Taylor), David Disher (William / Adam's father), Kyle Bertrand (Brad), Rita Serino (Grandma), Lorraine Philp (Linda / Adam's Mother), Erika Brodzky (Marianne).
In many ways, Andrew Cividino’s debut film, Sleeping Giant, feels familiar. It is a coming of age drama about three teenage boys over one summer spent at Lake Superior in Northern Ontario- where seemingly innocent actions gradually spiral out of control to have tragic consequences. Cividino doesn’t try to surprise you with the dark twists in the film’s last act – they’re there right from the beginning, as a beach wrestling match between the three main characters – shy, confused Adam (Jackson Martin) and cousins Riley (Reece Moffett) and Nate (Nick Serino) ends with (a little) blood spilled. In many ways, Sleeping Giant is kind of like an anti-Stand By Me, as this is no romantic, nostalgic look back at childhood friendship. But it’s also a film the immaturity of these boys – and how the grown men in their lives aren’t any better. We see a lot of romanticizing of overgrown man-children in Hollywood movies – in Sleeping Giant we see the deeper, darker consequences of that.
Adam is the very shy, quiet, perhaps sexually confused only son of two rich parents. They’re vacationing in their own spacious “summer home”, and his dad, William (David Disher), tries desperately hard to be the “cool dad” – giving Adam his first beer (“Don’t tell your mother”), saying things like “Chillax”, and trying to offer advice to Adam more like a cool older brother, than a father would. Early in the film, William does something stupid, that will reverberate through the rest of the film – and certainly contributes to Adam’s action later on. Adam is friends with Riley, and to a lesser extent, Riley’s cousin Nate. It’s never quite clear if Adam is interested in Riley sexually – although there are unmistakable signs of homoeroticism throughout their interactions – but when Riley becomes involved with Taylor (Katelyn McKerracher), a girl everyone thinks Adam has a crush on, it’s unclear whether he’s more jealous of him or her (although, perhaps tellingly, he’s much crueler to her). Riley and Nate are not as well off as Adam – they’re spending the summer with their grandmother (for reasons that will eventually become clearer) – and they are certainly lower class. The pair smoke – in front of their grandmother – and spend time with Brad (Kyle Bertrand), a pot dealer who lives in a trailer, seemingly has no other friends, and whose claim to fame is that 15 years ago, he jumped off of a really high cliff (he says he’s one of only two who have done it – and the other guy is dead). Riley is pulled between the world of Adam and Taylor – seemingly longing for a more complete, nuclear family unit, and all its trappings – but Nate suffers no delusions as to where he comes from, and is prone to rages when Riley seemingly wants to abandon him for that other world. Riley is, in many ways, acting the part of whoever he is around – Adam’s dad likes him, as does Taylor, but when it’s just Adam, Nate and Riley he becomes far more like his cousin – needless eviscerating a dead seagull for instance, or saying that all he wants to do is use Taylor as a “cum dumpster” and then move on – which clearly isn’t true when the pair of them are together.
The film is basically about how these three teenage boys push each other to go farther and farther, even beyond what they all know is smart to do. While Adam seems like the most innocent of the three of them at first, he ends up far from that – it really is his actions that set in motion everything that comes later in the film. As indefensible as those actions are, the film also understands – and sympathizes with them – to a certain degree, and never really spells out all of Adam’s reasons for doing so. Of the three boys, Nick Serino, delivers the best performance of the three as Nate – the most outwardly aggressive, but perhaps most fragile of the three of them (there is a reason he won the Canadian Screen Award for Best Supporting Actor last month). His blowup while playing a board game with Adam’s family is indefensible – yet its set off my Adam’s needling and embarrassing him. It’s a riveting performance.
The film feels naturalistic in just the right way. The dialogue between the three boys is unpolished, but sounds more real than most dialogue we hear in movies. The movie is beautifully photographed on the shores of Lake Superior – but it’s also more than willing to push in on the darker side of that life that normally we do not see. As a director, Andrew Cividino is confident that he doesn’t need to spell everything out – that he doesn’t need to feel every moment with pointless dialogue. It is a remarkably assured directorial debut.
Yes, you can probably guess where Sleeping Giant is headed from fairly early on in the film – it foreshadows things a bit too heavily. But that doesn’t diminish the impact of the ending when it does come. Sleeping Giant is an exceptional debut film – marking Cividino as one Canadian director worth keeping an eye out for.