Edge of Summer – Review

Edge of Summer Perhaps only some of our readers can remember family “staycations” back in the early 1990s. There were no mobile phones, no internet and no real notion of time. You tried to make friends with whoever else was hanging about and you played until you were called for your dinner. You probably had a bumbag with some spending money for sweets. It was both endlessly good fun and hilariously boring (especially if the classic British summer weather made an appearance).

It is this nostalgic version of summers past that skirts around the framing of Lucy Cohen’s Edge of Summer. The film is Cohen’s second feature-length effort and, whilst it’s not quite perfect, the feeling that it evokes is too strong to ignore. Evie (Flora Hylton) has arrived on the Cornish coast with her mother, Yvonne (Josie Walker) for what she had hoped would be some mother-daughter time. However, family friend Tony (Steffan Rhodri) has also shown up, hoping to monopolise Yvonne’s time for altogether more adult reasons. Shipped off out to play, Evie meets Adam (Joel Sefton-Iongi) and he introduces her to Cornish folklore and an abandoned tin mine.

But this isn’t a “wasn’t X amount of years ago so much better” kind of film. It’s an exploration of loss, grief and growth. It revels in both bed-time stories and the struggles of growing up. Adam tells Evie the story of the “knockers” – little gnomes who were said to knock to warn miners of any potential dangers. Sure as fate, they begin to hear a knocking sound on their exploration of the local mine. But, more than that, they can hear a voice – a man’s voice – which sounds as if he is trapped down the mine. Edge of Summer flirts a little with the horror genre in this narrative strand. But, in a less conventional way, the horrors come from elsewhere. Adam and Evie are both without their fathers. Yvonne is full of giggles and smiles in public but, when seemingly unobserved, is clearly close to some sort of nervous breakdown. Even during the summer holidays, life can be cruel, Cohen seems to say.

It must be noted that the young leads in this film are quite remarkable. Flora Hylton plays Evie as a girl much more naïve than her twelve years, dressing in frilly party frocks, picking at beaded friendship bracelets and glittery hair slides. She seems shocked when she sees local teens kissing, earning her a torrent of mockery from those involved. Her parents are separated, which she seems unaware of the realities of, and she yearns for her mother like a much younger child. There’s a deliberate hesitancy in Hylton’s performance that is very engaging. Joel Sefton-Iongi captures the angst and frustration of pre-pubescence perfectly. He is straddling the line of still believing in local fairytales and being angry at the entire world. He delivers emotional notes that are very layered and seasoned.

This is a coming-of-age film but one in which the two leads realise that life – and the adulthood that lies beyond them – can be complex and miserable. There is no taking off the glasses to reveal a great beauty or justice for the underdog, here.

However, the film does seem to lose its way as it heads towards its third act. The ghost story element of the voice in the men peters out and, instead, we are treated to the site of Yvonne being Edge of Summer Lucy Cohenunceremoniously railed by a sweating, cream-loafered Tony. Adam discovers that his mother has been lying to him about his father’s whereabouts. It all gets a bit muddled and murky as writer / director Cohen works out what to do with her characters. Not every film needs to be tied up neatly in a bow, but the approach feels a little too scattered to give you any of emotional pay offs that you thought the film might have been headed towards.

Overall, Edge of Summer benefits from some early 90s nostalgia in which exploring things that seemed vaguely dangerous probably was the biggest thrill of your summer holidays. Cohen’s examination of grief, loss and the burgeoning threat of adulthood is well done but could use a little more fleshing out in order to really hit home. The two leads – Fiona Hylton and Joel Sefton-Iongi – do a remarkable job of drawing you into their respective stories.

Edge of Summer is screening at the 2024 Glasgow Film Festival.

Mary Munoz
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