A bunch of Welsh fourteen-year-old kids bunk off school one day to waste a few hours in their local woods: bull-headed ring-leader Bingo (Ciaran Joyce), prankster Jonesy (Darren Evans), stooge Mugsy (Ryan Conway) and tagger-on Leanne (Amy Harvey).

Bingo and Leanne make out while Jonesy teases Mugsy about the nature of a pentagram they've found painted on their "den".

Brothers Paul (Jonathan Jones) and Ben (Christopher Conway) turn up shortly afterwards on their moped, managing to lose control of the bike and run over a passing man. Hurriedly, Paul gathers his disabled brother Ben and they rush to tell the others.

The gang are in no rush to act upon the incident and soon settle round a self-made fire to barbecue burgers and crack open some tinnies. But then Peter (Kevin Howarth) staggers into their circle, who they recognise as being the man they hit.

Far from being angry, Peter is more concerned about whether the boys got hurt, and asks if he can join them. The group welcome him into their circle and are quick to offer their services when he explains that he's searching for his dog Jesus.

While Jonesy, Bingo and Paul run off into the woods with Peter in search of Jesus, Leanne stays behind to look after Ben. When the wanderers return sans canine, they find two older boys have arrived on the scene and are in the process of stealing the booze.

When the older kids start to harass Bingo, Peter steps up and brandishes a gun in their face. The older boys scarper while the remaining group draw their breath before continuing their afternoon with Peter.

Things calm down for a short while as Peter regales the group with tales of how he and his mates would use the woods for army manoeuvre practice in their youth. But when an altercation between Paul and Jonesy leads to Peter giving them both a kicking in a bid to educate them against bullying, he finally realises he has outstayed his welcome.

Peter tells the group he will leave them be, but only after he has taught them a valuable lesson. He encourages the group to beat him, imagining him to be someone they each hate. He tells them to be as rough as they like - it's all "training" to him - but to avoid hitting his face.

However, Peter goads Bingo a little too far and Bingo responds with a boot to Peter's head. Peter sees red once more, and this time points his gun at the hapless youths he'd not long since befriended.

The afternoon grows ever darker from here on in, leading to events that will change the protagonists' lives forever ...

SUMMER SCARS is the latest collaboration between director Julian Richards and actor Kevin Howarth. The last time they worked together was on 2003's THE LAST HORROR MOVIE. MOVIE was one of those films that divided audience opinions massively. While SCARS may be set to do the same, it will be for different reasons and overall is sure to elicit a better response.

The film works with a basic premise and keeps things simple, never attempting to buff the 68-minute running time with unnecessary sub-plots or character development. Minimal exposition and a sole concentration on events unfolding in near-real time keep the film concise and focused.

Al Wilson's script (which won him a 2008 BAFTA Award for Best Newcomer) expands on Richards' initial idea expertly, speaking the language of the kids unfalteringly while blessing Peter with a plausible ambiguity and dangerous charisma that can easily be perceived as being magnetic for these kids.

Dialogue is canny throughout, with characters speaking believably and little set-ups being laid subtly earlier in proceedings, ready to be utilised later in the plot. Best of all with the script though is how the macho posturing of the kids is stripped away as the trouble escalates. The lads begin with American gangsta phrases like "I'm gonna bust a cap in yo ass" and gradually grind down to whimpering and telling their mothers they love them over the telephone.

The performances are uniformly excellent. The kids are brilliant, each one of them being a real find - especially the superb Jones and Evans. Richards has fallen on his feet with their casting. The good news for Howarth is that he achieves what many adult actors struggle to do, and holds his own against an impressive young cast.

Howarth is a minor revelation, in fact. His character in MOVIE was too prim, too poised to either take to or believe. Here, he's dirty and unshaven, and with a black stare that truly appears to represent a lost soul. It's a chillingly authentic performance, brimming with restrained anger amid a childlike confusion that ensures the audience never has the easy option of writing him off as merely being evil.

Thematically, the film plays with Peter's character well while taking in religious allegories (the search for Jesus; the relationship between Peter and Paul; Peter's quest to save the kids from themselves) and hinting at a traumatic military background as a reason for his current disposition.

The central theme though is a coming of age one, a rites of passage wherein the kids will experience events that will force them to forever leave their childhood behind from this point onwards.

Running alongside this, by way of some savvy observations and a chilling latter-half set-piece, is the notion of masculinity and how thin a facade it is. Peter's tormenting soon reveals the little boys behind the male bravado of Bingo and his gang, while Peter's own self-doubts come to the fore in a scene that the Daily Mail are sure to misread as being a glorification of child pornography.

On the down side, it must be said that, for all the brilliantly observed dialogue, these teenagers do at times exhibit some unrealistic traits. They don't swear anywhere near as much as kids I know; they don't attempt to beat or stab Peter to death (refuse kids a cigarette where I live and you'll be lucky to walk away unharmed); and, aside from Paul, none of them own mobiles. Really? Fourteen-year-old kids without mobile telephones? Not on your nelly.

Also, it's worth musing that while THE LAST HORROR MOVIE soon became dated because it's big conceit related to a medium no longer used by the majority (videotape), so too can it be anticipated that SUMMER SCARS is a product of it's time and will date rather quickly.

But none of this should detract from the fact that this is a very solid piece of storytelling that anyone who, like me, spent misspent childhood summers in the woods building dens, lighting fires and getting pissed with their mates will quickly warm to. It hits more true notes than bum ones and is graced with a great script, fine cinematography and a splendidly intense cast.

It could be argued that SUMMER SCARS is essentially STAND BY ME-meets-A ROOM FOR ROMEO BRASS-meets-THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT. And some will dismiss it as being so. Either that, or EDEN LAKE flipped on it's back. Others may be disappointed that it never builds into a blood-soaked horror show. But what shines through, especially on a second viewing, is that this is so much more by showing so much less.

Should this screener disc be indicative of the discs sold in stores come late September, the main menu page opens the disc in static manner. For there, there's an animated scene-selection menu allowing access to the main feature via 8 chapters.

Extras begin with an extremely valid commentary track from Richards and co-producer Sabina Sattar. Richards takes centre court and offers a wealth of revealing insights into what was at times an uneasy production.

From explaining the intentional misdirection of the stylish "yoof flick"-style opening titles to expanding on the religious undertones inherent in Peter's relationship with the kids, Richards proffers an abundance of riffs on ideas from the film, illustrating how much this is his concept despite it being Wilson's script.

Predictably Sattar and Richards are oozing with accolades for their young cast. And rightly so. Although there are some pregnant pauses, particularly in the latter half, this is an overall strong commentary track that enhances enjoyment of the film.

Next up is a very polished, slick 30-minute Making Of documentary. Including on-screen contributions from all main cast and crew members, this also offers a good amount of interesting behind-the-scenes footage and again heightens appreciation of the end product.

A 2-minute trailer is good but doesn't truly do the film justice.

Then we have PIRATES, an engagingly direct short film shot by Richards in 1987. Running 25 minutes in length, it's a lightweight but enjoyable yarn concerning three teenaged lads who begin working for the bullying Morgan (William Vaughan). When the boys discover Morgan is dealing in pirate videos, they set about ruining his mini-empire. Some may remember this from it's late-night screening on UK TV many moons ago.

A low-key rites of passage tale that lightly touches on the transition from childhood to becoming an adult, the inclusion of PIRATES on this disc is relevant and welcome.

Finally, DVD ROM added content provides access to the original script and press pack.

SUMMER SCARS is an interesting, polished and tense film that builds on fine performances and canny observations rather than explosive set-pieces. It may not register enough on the action front to qualify in some people's eyes as a thriller, but if you enjoy restrained slow-burners that constantly threaten to explode - even if they actually don't - then you'll find much to appreciate here.

Worth seeing for its clued-up script, an excellent cast of young hopefuls and impressive leaps forward for both Howarth and Richards - who, from this, could become the genre's answer to Shane Meadows.

Review by Stu Willis

Released by Soda Pictures
Region 2 - PAL
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review