Making its premiere at SXSW on Monday, March 13, Hot Summer Nights is the debut feature of writer/director Elijah Bynum. Set in Massachusetts in 1991, it’s the story of Daniel (Timothée Chalamet, Call Me By Your Name), an introverted 17-year-old who’s sent by his newly widowed mother to spend the summer with her sister on Cape Cod. There, he meets Hunter Strawberry (Alex Roe, Rings), the town bad boy, who makes all the girls swoon and peddles marijuana to the townies and “summer birds” (the tourists).
He also meets and falls for pretty McKayla (Maika Monroe, It Follows), unaware that she is Hunter’s sister. She refuses to have any contact with her brother because she disapproves of his lifestyle and means of making money. When Daniel learns that they are siblings (and also that extremely protective Hunter promises to do harm to any guy that touches her), he keeps his association with each of them secret from the other. Meanwhile, Hunter finds romance of his own with Amy (Maia Mitchell).
Daniel proves to be a whiz at drug dealing, and he convinces Hunter that selling dime bags to the summer birds is no way to make money — moving large quantities is the way to go. Of course, getting involved with the bigger distributors increases the risk, and the boys soon find themselves in hot water with some criminal types.
Bynum, who grew up in Amherst, Massachusetts, directs with an assured hand and familiarity with the milieu. His story is somewhat schizophrenic, however. It starts out as a fast-paced, raunchy comedy and then makes an abrupt shift in tone and pacing when trouble approaches — both human and natural. Hurricane Bob is about to make landfall, and Bynum uses it as a metaphor for the increasing turbulence in his characters’ lives.
That said, the director has gotten fine performances from his cast. Chalamet is convincing as Daniel, transforming from shy kid to self-assured young man as both his business and romantic relationships soar. The English-born Roe plays heartthrob Hunter to perfection, and it’s easy to see why he breaks so many hearts. Mitchell is also fine as Amy, and Monroe brings an appealing resilience to her portrayal of McKayla.
In summary, Hot Summer Nights is made with enough skill and style to recommend keeping an eye out for Bynum’s future work.
Hot Summer Nights was reviewed on Monday, March 13, at the Paramount Theatre in Austin, Texas. Director and star photos by the author.