Cruel Summer sets up a daring narrative that engages viewers and this is just one of the intriguing aspects of this enthralling American teen thriller series. Each episode charts one particular day over the course of three years — 1993, 1994 and 1995 — and conveys the wide-reaching effects of a kidnapping. The show’s successes are more than its ability to absorb viewers with the dramatic twists and developments; it is also effective in highlighting several issues that women face and does so with tact and subtlety, implicitly showcasing female talent.
In the first instalment, directed by Max Winkler and written by Bert V Royal, the audience sees three versions of the 21st June from the perspective of Jeanette Turner (Chiara Aurelia). In 1993 this character is an atypical outcast, yet contented geek. A year later she has undergone a physical and social change and has taken on the mantle of teen socialite vacated by Kate Wallis (Olivia Holt), who has gone missing. By 1995 the adolescent is a depressed recluse struggling to cope with the trauma of having been blamed for the missing girl’s disappearance.
The second episode, directed by Bill Purple, follows Kate’s story on 26th June across the three years. It is revealed to be a narrative that complicates the previous chapter. Fortunately, each year is distinguished by post-production effects so the audience can follow each thread without becoming entangled in the timeline and struggling to differentiate between moments.
Furthermore, while it appears that the secluded girl’s seeming fixation on her popular friend corroborates her culpability in the latter’s vanishing, there are numerous examples in which the surface appearance contradicts the reality. Just as the accused is not the main perpetrator of her classmate’s disappearance, Kate does not live the comfortable life her family’s affluent social standing would supposedly afford. These initial episodes show that both characters are victims of abuse from those close to them.
These similarities between the two protagonists help to escalate the series from something that is primarily dependent on narrative sensationalism to that which engages with its treatment of young female issues with sensitive discernment.
Though this by no means sets up Cruel Summer as an overt celebration of femininity, the successes that persuade viewers to watch the series to its thrilling conclusion – from cast and production to a fantastic woman-dominated soundtrack – are largely indebted to female talent.
Cruel Summer is released on Amazon Prime Video on 6th August 2021.
Watch the trailer for Cruel Summer here: