Review: Sleeping Giant (2015)

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The indie film scene in Canada is finally going places. While it seems like we’re not going to be able churn out blockbusters like our American brothers any time soon, we’re aiming to make some decent introspective art films that can find a cult fan base and make splashes in the festival circuit. It’s an exciting time to be a Canadian film maker. Of course, we’re still struggling to overcome the financial restraints of being funded by the government and independents rather than the studio system.

If you play your cards right, you can make your constraints your film’s strength. Indie directors know the tips and tricks. Either make it a style or make it part of your story. Sleeping Giant goes with the latter. It follows Adam as he and his family are visiting their country cottage on the beach of Lake Superior. Adam, by proximity, befriends a pair of cousins: Nate and Riley. The two are of very different walks of life than Adam; their troubled home life is rarely talked about, but clear in their behaviour. They’re profane, they smoke pot and cigarettes, and steal liquor all in the name of free will and good fun.

Nate is clearly the shit head of the two and treats Adam like an outsider. Riley actually has some potential and even starts to warm up to Adam’s family. He is clearly drawn to the notion of a father figure and finds that somewhat in Adam’s dad, though that is somewhat spoiled when Riley spots him cheating on his wife with a local. Naturally, the bomb is dropped on Adam, who is left adrift with his perception of his father tainted. This leaves him leaning on the brotherhood he shares with the two cousins, despite the level of hostility that comes with any relationship with Nate. But Adam does value his friendship with Riley and nothing can get in the way of that… except a girl, naturally. They’re young teens after all.

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Sleeping Giant is not a story driven film, but it does capture a familiar time in a young man’s life. I never had the experiences that Adam had, but I do identify with them. And it addresses very familiar issues that teens go through; a search for a sense of belonging, disenchantment of parents, and the choice to conform or carve your own identity. Actually, Adam and my teenaged self are not dissimilar at all. He is timid and flawed, but very aware of his surroundings. He can read the lines between the lines and manipulate others. He’s much smarter than the other two and he knows it, but is too trapped from his own reservations to actually stand up for himself. It’s a learned skill, kid, and it isn’t easy.

Anyway, there is a story and it’s entrenched in the relationships of the people. It’s all about the power struggles between the various characters. There is a power struggle between Adam and his dad because of the secret Adam knows. There is a struggle for Riley’s attention between Nate and Adam, who represent the two paths that he could walk down. And of course there is the age old competition between two boys and the affection for a girl. Or is it for the affection of the girl? May not be.

First time feature writer and director Andrew Cividino understands the need for subtlety in a film like this. At first glance these scenes can be dismissed as meandering, much like how an adult watching these kids may dismiss their actions as simple frivolities of youth. But that’s how it must be presented for us to understand that these frivolities are not without consequences. Their decisions shape who these boys will grow up to be and influence how they may think and act in the future. They are always pushing their boundaries in search for something more exhilarating in life and the adults aren’t there to steer them the right way. Is it boys will be boys, or is it life and death?

It’s kind of a shame that, for a movie about teens, it’s oddly not too accessible for teens. I don’t imagine they’ll understand it. The truth of youth is that we mostly understand it in retrospect. For me, the feelings were familiar, but I felt like I understood the drive behind their actions more than ever before. Not only does he capture the essence of the teenage years, but offers genuine insight into them as long as you’re able to read between the lines. This is a necessity as all three kids have faces that they put on and rarely say what they actually believe. Except maybe Nate, who is either a legitimate asshole or has the biggest shield up of them all. I suspect it’s a combination of the two.

I wonder if Sleeping Giants can go much farther than this. I don’t even know if it needs to. It’s hit the speciality audience and filled festival seats and even got limited theatrical distribution. That is an accomplishment for a film of this size. Cividino has his critical darling and can take his career to the next level from here. But it doesn’t quite have “cult hit” status coursing through its celluloid veins. The rewards of this film are not instant. In fact, it may leave you feeling pretty glum. But it does leave an impact; there is a feeling from it that lingers and compels one to reflect. Not unlike youth itself, I suppose. Everyone wants to revisit that time in their lives, right?

3.5 Stars

-DF