Summer In The Shade

***

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Summer In The Shade
"Millar demonstrates a talent, here, for finding horror in everyday things."

The only time we meet Grace’s father is in a scene at the very start of this film where he’s reading to her from the Odyssey – the part about the agony of Penelope’s waiting for her long-vanished husband. it seems a cruel choice because shortly afterwards he will leave, making those vague promises that people do when leaving their established families to start new ones, but saying different things to Grace and to her mother. Will Grace take after the Ithacan queen and wait for him, trusting to his return? She buries herself in drawing and in religious scripture. Before long, her mother has bundled her off with a family friend, anxious to get the space she needs to try to put some kind of life back together.

It all happens so fast that Grace (Niamh Walter) doesn’t really understand the reason for the trip to Cornwall. She thinks she’s just going to spend time with her friend Asta (Nyobi Hendry) and Asta’s mother Kate (Rebecca Palmer), enjoying a holiday. We follow her through early scenes like a home movie camera. The girls laugh and run around together, playing in the holiday home’s spacious garden, exploring the woods, inventing games and secret rituals. Asta reads a book called Supernatural World full of supposedly true ghost encounters. The pair find a dead rabbit in the house and react with mingled horror and fascination, exploring those liminal spaces between life and death, childhood and adolescence.

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Whist the girls play, the adults are getting on with their lives. Kate urges Grace to call her mother, but Grace prefers to listen in to calls between the two women, learning more that way, gradually figuring things out. Kate’s friend Jane (Helen Masters) comes to visit, but it’s the arrival of Sid (Zaqi Ismail), a young backpacker whom Kate decides can stay with them for a while, which complicates everything. Kate has clear designs on him but he’s just young enough to awaken feelings of jealousy in Grace. He also seems to be the only person who really recognises what she’s going through, and tries to offer some kind of guidance and support beyond just being there.

The relationship between Sid and Kate becomes increasingly uncomfortable to watch as she sets out to seduce him and then to persuade him to return home with her once the holiday is over, with no apparent concern about the obvious power imbalance between the two of them (all else aside, he has no home of his own). Meanwhile, Grace discovers that with borrowed lipstick she can make herself look older – perhaps not sufficiently to make a local boy think she’s an actual adult, or even above the age of consent, but sufficiently to persuade him that he can argue that he didn’t know better. The idyllic country landscape becomes fraught with danger. On top of this, Grace is menstruating for the first time and developing disturbing ideas about the ritual shedding of blood.

With an overly heavy soundtrack and some clumsy bits of dialogue, Summer In The Shade looks rough in places, but for a first feature made on a low budget, it acquits itself fairly well overall. Director Alice Millar has a clear vision which one suspects will come across more strongly with practice. She connects well with her actors. Walter bears up well in a demanding role, though it’s Ismail who is the standout. Aside from a scene involving Tarot where the conflicts feel somewhat contrived, the ensemble is convincing, and there’s a natural chemistry between the two girls which brings their scenes to life.

Millar demonstrates a talent, here, for finding horror in everyday things and addressing the sources of life’s deep traumas. She doesn’t rely on misogyny and menarche, which have been done to death, but draws out themes which resonate more strongly with the individual characters. The film may be uneven but it has moments of real power.

Reviewed on: 17 Jun 2022
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Summer, 1997. A holiday to Cornwall forces troubled 13-year-old Grace to confront her demons.

Director: Alice Millar

Writer: Isobel Boyce

Starring: Niamh Walter, Nyobi Hendry, Rebecca Palmer, Zaqi Ismail

Year: 2020

Country: UK

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