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Visually atmospheric but tonally all over the place, Hot Summer Nights, a first feature by Elijah Bynum, has much to appreciate but ultimately possesses the sampler-platter vibe of a director’s demo reel.
Set on Cape Cod during the particularly scorching summer of 1991, the drama wastes little time in announcing its arrival, going stylistically full-throttle in its introduction of Daniel (Timothee Chalamet, breakout star of the Sundance sensation Call Me by Your Name), an introverted teen who has been sent by his recently widowed mom to spend the holiday break with an aunt on the Cape.
Given the film’s initial turbo-charged pace, it doesn’t take long before Daniel finds himself idealizing resident bad boy Hunter Strawberry (Alex Roe), a small-time drug dealer with an oozing James Dean cool and a trigger temper, who sells dime-bags to the vacationing Summer Birds. The two proceed to form a business partnership, incorporating Daniel’s brains and Hunter’s brawn, and in short order they considerably boost their partying clientele.
With Daniel’s confidence similarly boosted, he gets into a steamy relationship with local hot girl McKayla (Maika Monroe of It Follows), a situation complicated by the fact that she turns out to be overprotective Hunter’s little sister.
Maybe it has something to do with the season’s encroaching lethargy, but the film’s initially hyper pace later gives way to needlessly protracted takes, often featuring extreme close-ups of characters quietly revealing painful truths.
Things pick up a bit as destructive Hurricane Bob is gathering strength, but by that point, the all-too-apparent two-hour running time is also weighing heavily without enough plot to fill it.
Writer-director Bynum admittedly coaxes sensitive performances from his photogenic cast, especially Chalamet, Roe, Monroe and Emory Cohen as a self-styled thug, and makes for a terrific music curator, given all the interesting song choices — most from the 1960s and 1970s — that permeate many of the scenes.
In the future, should he manage to add a little more discipline to the mix, his sophomore effort could hold considerable promise.
Production company: Imperative Entertainment
Cast: Timothee Chalamet, Maika Monroe, Alex Roe, Maia Mitchell, William Fichtner, Thomas Jane, Emory Cohen
Director-screenwriter: Elijah Bynum
Producers: Bradley Thomas, Dan Friedkin, Ryan Friedkin
Executive producers: Peter Farrelly, Nathan Kelly, Jasmine Daghighian, Allyn Stewart, Kip Nelson, Casey Wilder Mott
Director of photography: Javier Julia
Production designer: Kay Lee
Costume designer: Carol Cutshall
Editors: Jeff Castelluccio, Tom Constantino
Music: Will Bates
Venue: South by Southwest (Narrative Spotlight)
Sales: Imperative Entertainment
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