Sleeping Giant full movie review - A mesmerising Greco-Canadian tragedy
You could be forgiven for thinking that this is a monster film, but the "Sleeping Giant" to which the title refers is not actually some great, dozing behemoth.
Rather, the giant in question is the pent- up, sleeping aggression that boils in a boy's mind, his violent nature that, for the good of himself and others, must be kept hidden and forgotten. Andrew Cividino's debut film, a haunting piece about three teenage boys who battle through their boredom on the shores of Lake Superior, explores this unsettling reality of the teenage experience with startling precision and a steady hand. With the majority of modern teenage cinema focussing on serving up ridiculous morbidity and sex objects on a badly-made platter (Hunger Games, I'm looking at you) and the celebrated classics of the genre focussing on created a homogenized teenage reality with which we supposedly all identify (Boyhood, I'm looking at you) this film, a film that dares to show a little truth, is an especially timely slap in the face. Not only that, but I can say with confidence that Sleeping Giant is the best film I've seen all year.
Jackson Martin plays the protagonist of the film, Adam, a reticent fifteen-year old who exists, along with his friends Nate and Riley, in a state of perpetual boredom. Although the other two readily participate in all sorts of strange little schemes, it's Nate who drives them from one distraction to the next. Riley shares Nate's restlessness, but lacks the recklessness and bravado that solidifies Nate as the leader of the bunch. And Adam serves as the quiet voice of moderation, who goes mostly ignored, teetering on the fine line between retaining his principles and belonging with the people around him.
It isn't just his friends who make him feel this way. Adam's father treats Riley better than he treats Adam, and the girl he likes, Taylor, is making eyes at Riley. But what is Adam to do? Living a secluded life and brimful of boredom, his friends offer the only available respite. So he goes along, robbing convenience stores (their getaway vehicle is a golf cart), smoking weed in a bum's trailer, and in a particularly anarchic scene, tying a firecracker to a skateboard. As the boys test the limits of their power, they grow more confident, more fearless, almost even suicidal. But don't you dare think that you're in for a coming-of-age film.
This isn't a film about maturation. It's a film that addresses its subjects: teenage boys. It explores their hearts and minds, and the toxicity lurking in them. Nate is a stone-cold psycho, but it's frightening how recognizable he is. His dialogue is vulgar and bloated, but not unrealistic. And Nick Serino's performance is worthy of commendation ten times over.
The direction is fantastic. The film is shot in an unabashedly Canadian fashion, reveling in the landscape and in bodies rather than faces. For a debut, the subtlety is incredible. Brief suggestions and striking lines capture our attention and urge us to think about their implications. Part of it is sheer guesswork, but some of it pays off. If anything, it makes the film a more engaging experience.
Cividino's film is autobiographical in more ways than one. First of all, the setting is gathered straight from Cividino's childhood. But more importantly, the film reflects how he experienced those lonely shores, how he coped with boredom, and how poisonous his options were. As Adam descends further into juvenile savagery, he begins to develop strange -- but admittedly relatable -- little habits. He becomes fascinated with a fishmonger that his father is having an affair with, going so far as to place a telescope outside her house and watch her undress. He lies to his parents, Taylor, and finally to his friends.
The final confrontation refers back to ancient Greek tragedies. The threads of fate are tied by this point, we know what's going to happen, and when it does, we realize that it didn't even need to, which makes it all the more heartbreaking.
The only thing the film lacks is a real ending. Sure, it ends, but it seems to come out of nowhere. Something momentous has happened, at least in my mind, but the ending doesn't seem to do the harsh beauty of the film justice, freeze-framing the story in a way that's very, very unsatisfying. This is a problem, but still only a minor blunder that I'll admit is subject to taste.
As they say, boys will be boys. And guess what? They're right.