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Review: ‘Cruel Summer’ scores memorable twists

By Jessica Cuevas, May 4, 2021

Freeform’s new original series “Cruel Summer” is filled with drama, mystery and thrills. With three episodes so far, the ongoing show is engaging and captivating as it builds anticipation for future episodes.

Set in the early ‘90s, the show focuses on two teenagers and their drastically changing lives. Olivia Holt and Chiara Aurelia star as the two main characters from different worlds that reveal their perspectives during three mystery-filled summers. Kate Wallis, played by Holt, is shown as a popular, pretty girl while Jeanette Turner, played by Aurelia, is a shy outsider who admires Kate and the life she lives. When Kate goes missing, Jeanette lunges at the opportunity to take over her life.

Each episode offers a peek at Jeanette’s birthday each summer that sets the tone for the year. The interesting timeline reveals her transformations — the first year as a nerdy girl, the second as an emerging trendy gal in a popular crowd and the third meeting with a lawyer. With each scene, the lighting alters and sets the mood from moderate to bright to dark and gloomy when things go wrong.

Though the alternating years can feel confusing at first, it’s a charming feature that makes the show more suspenseful, making the audience crave the mystery in future episodes.

Holt and Aurelia both provide solid performances and showcase their passion for diving into their characters. Aurelia perfectly captures the audience by playing multiple identities each year, displaying her wide range of emotions from anger to nervousness and loneliness.

Matching Aurelia’s brilliant performance, Holt reveals her contrasting charms as she shows the audience her ability to evolve into a mature role as opposed to her previous cheerful characters on several Disney Channel series. From being bubbly one day to becoming completely numb the next, Holt delivers the pain of her character incredibly and does not hold back.

Both women make each of their stories believable and that keeps the viewers wondering who is telling the truth. These two characters both bring suspense that adds a chilling effect to the show.

The soundtrack features fun ‘90s songs like “I Wanna Be Down” by Brandy and “Zombie” by the Cranberries to enhance the old-school effect. At the other times, the soundtrack transitions to darker sounds that build tension.

Though it may be too early for theories, especially with the first three episodes leaving plenty of unanswered questions, the show keeps viewers guessing on what is going to happen next.

“Cruel Summer” is an interesting, binge-friendly show perfect for audiences who love drama, suspense and mystery.

New episodes premiere every Tuesday on Freeform at 7 p.m. and every Wednesday on Hulu.

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