Movie Review: “Sleeping Giant” – Best Worst Summer Ever

Written by Matt Butler May 26, 2016

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When Andrew Stanton talked about the clues to a great story on TED, he spoke of a crucial ‘unifying theory of two plus two’. “Make the audience put things together. Don’t give them four, give them two plus two. The elements you provide and the order you place them in is crucial to whether you succeed or fail at engaging the audience.” This is but a sliver of what makes Stanton’s stories, and Pixar’s by majority, so successful in engaging us. This wisdom goes beyond the adage ‘Show, don’t tell’ and into an observance of the subtleties, the understatements, the unfinished sentences that the audience naturally completes. As Stanton says, “We’re born problem solvers.” It’s incredibly encouraging how applicable this simple theory is to so many ingenious films, including this summer’s most elusive indie masterpiece, Sleeping Giant.

Now, you’ve likely never heard of Sleeping Giant, but it’s fantastic! This debut for Canadian writer/director Andrew Cividino is a beautiful blend of simple escapism with unhinging complexity that completely shatters expectations, even if the movie’s so obscure you have few expectations to begin with. I guess what I did expect, at least from the trailer, was a fun summer ‘live life to the full’ type movie. The shots of cliff-diving are great for setting up what should be a story about taking risks, living on the edge, if for no other reason than the brevity of life. Adam (Jackson Martin) is established early on as a hesitater, shying away from the abrasive wrestling of his two friends Nate (Nick Serino) and Riley (Reece Moffett), so you get the suspicion that his arc will involve taking some of that abrasiveness for himself. That’s a fine enough premise right there, but for Sleeping Giant, it’s only half the story. The other half is the why of it all, why these boys seek thrills so desperately. The why comes about from the time we spend with the boys, with the mesh and clash of their yin-yang home lives. It’s an argument that everything happens for a reason.

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And that’s another great thing about Sleeping Giant, consequence, how one thing leads to another. The sequence of Adam’s experiences is so crucial to how he develops as a character that every experience, big or small, fits into the movie like a puzzle piece. You really feel like you’re learning at the same pace as him, even if his lessons are ultimately detrimental. Because of these ingenious consequences, the story is a constant racking up of conflicts that prove crippling and inescapable. At the end of it, you wonder how you went from fun summer escapism to unsettling family drama.

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The next thing I want to talk about involves a mild spoiler since I don’t need to say what happens exactly, but since it’s a crucial part of the movie, here’s my warning (go to the next paragraph to avoid spoilers). At the point in the movie when all the conflict is stacked up to the peak, we see our leads stuck in a dire and complicated situation. At what feels like the end of the second act, the movie, instead, ends altogether. As the credits rolled, I was taken aback. I was completely unsettled, teeming with questions. Why end it like that? You have this brilliant story, and you just end it? So soon? Without a conclusion? It didn’t take long, however, for me to come to my own conclusion. It’s clear that the placement of the ending was strategic. The ending doesn’t just come out of nowhere, it comes at the specific point in time when hope has vanished, the end of what should be the second act. What Sleeping Giant is actively doing is denying us that third act, that resolution. Why? I think it has something to do with the setting: cottage country. Typically, cottage country is more for vacation than home living, with isolated communities that, in a funny way, work to expand our mental landscape to lengths not possible in home life. We go to cottage country to simplify, to lighten ourselves of the weight we carry day-to-day. But try as we might, there will always be loads to bear, leading us to seek greater pleasures in effort to ease the load. What Sleeping Giant’s ending shows is a psychological need for order in a chaotic world, a need that is never fulfilled. By denying a resolution, it shows us how much more we wanted and expected one, and how fleeting resolutions really are. It’s cottage life meets real life.

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Sleeping Giant’s greatest feature is its tight grasp on reality. It uses everyday conversation and underacting to allude to larger and unspoken ideas. It lets life happen within its clever narrative structure, and it’s never brash and showy with how clever it is, it’s just plain clever! Though Sleeping Giant has come and gone from theatres, here’s hoping my review gives you some compulsion to look it up on digital, or blu-ray (if we’re so lucky).

My Rating: 9.5/10

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About Matt Butler

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is a strapping young English Major with a fiery passion for the art of cinematic storytelling. He likes long walks on the beach and knows the proper use of 'your' and 'you're'. (Example: I hope YOU'RE having a wonderful time browsing our site, and I hope you enjoy YOUR time reading my film reviews. I wrote them just for you.)

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