SUMMERING offers a nostalgic look at childhood and the people and things that mattered to you as a kid. It deals with the feelings you have when that childhood starts to slip away, and your awareness of it happening.
The escapism of being with your friends when the rest of your life feels heavy around you is central to the theme of this movie.
When Daisy, Lola, and their friends discover a dead body in the woods, the innocence of their childhood comes crashing down around them as they struggle with their discovery. They ask themselves questions about morality and examine the concepts of good and evil.
It would be easy to compare this as a female-led version of STAND BY ME, but it’s really more than that. Not better, but different. In the latter movie, the body was the destination of their journey, and the effect it had on them is different from how it affects the girls in SUMMERING.
The girls in this film ask questions about the body. Was he loved? How did he die? Was it suicide? Do you think he was a good person? They show a different kind of empathy than the boys in that other movie. They make a pact to keep their discovery from their parents, for fear of how telling their parents might affect their already strained friendships.
The acting from the main cast is fantastic, with shout outs to the four girls (Lia Barnett, Sanai Victoria, Madalen Mills, and Eden Grace Redfield). The writing is natural, and it’s a little surprising considering the movie, which focuses so heavily on the relationships of women, is written by two men. The director (also one of the writers), James Ponsoldt is known for other coming-of-age tales like THE SPECTACULAR NOW, so he isn’t treading unfamiliar territory with this, and it shows.
The movie tries to stretch in a few different directions. It has elements of a mystery, a thriller, some fun horror-like scares, but always snaps back to the core drama of the story. The story meanders a little in the middle, but the acting and dialogue is dynamic enough to keep an audience interested. They allude to so many things happening around the girls, and the issues just below the surface in their lives but keep those stories on the periphery.
The ending makes sense for the story. The girls move on to middle school and the questions they have about the body are resolved. One scene in particular has the girls burying their toys, literally the story trope of “time to put childish things away”, but with the dead man’s shoe added to the scene to inject an additional emotional punch to it that resonates deeply. The characters grow, and even though they try to make a pact to continue hanging out, you know that their time together, like their childhood, will be fleeting.
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