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Review: Cruel Peter (2020)

Christmas 1908 in Messina, Italy. Peter Hoffman (Aran Bevan) is an evil little shit, even by 13-year-old standards. But since he directs his violence at animals and servants (the same thing to his parents) nothing is done about it. Until someone whacks him over the head and buries him alive. His impromptu tomb is covered in the ensuing earthquake. Thus begins Cruel Peter.

This being a horror film, you know Peter is not going to stay forgotten, or buried. Directors Christian Bisceglia and Ascanio Malgarini, who previously gave us The Haunting of Helena, will see to that. Widowed archaeologist Norman Nash (Henry Douthwaite, Black Site, Soldier of War) is sent to supervise a dig in Messina. His teenage daughter Liz (Zoe Nochi) accompanying him. Can you guess whose body Norman will uncover? Or who Liz’s attempts to contact her dead mother will reach instead?

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I was hoping Cruel Peter might have been something a little different when instead of a Ouija board, Liz tries contacting her mother with a Bishop’s Sphere. It’s sort of a cross between a crystal ball, an Ouija board and a disco ball. It’s certainly different, and it makes for a nice visual. But the results are the same.

Strange sounds, hallucinations, dark figures moving around in the night, we’ve seen this all before. Sudden personality changes. Norman’s issues, blaming himself for his wife’s death and the loss of his daughter’s hearing. Unexplained vandalism at the excavation site. All the things we expect from a film like Cruel Peter.

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Now, this still could have been entertaining if it was at least fast-paced enough to keep audiences from realizing how familiar it all is. But Cruel Peter takes its time letting the story play out. The filmmakers were trying for mood over jump scares and fast editing, which is a nice change. But without some new ideas, that pace just means you can think about where you’ve seen it done before. And frequently done better.

Beautiful scenery and effective cinematography can only do so much. And even with above-average CGI, they can’t elevate this above watchable at best. It does however have a nice website. Cruel Peter is available to stream via Vertical Entertainment and on Netflix in some locations.

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Where to watch Cruel Peter
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