Summer Camp

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Four American camp counselors come to Spain for an English Immersion Camp, but before the kids can arrive, a strange virus begins temporarily turning people into rage fueled monsters.

It seems like only yesterday that a fresh faced little kid was giddy at the prospect of another summer camp where his days would be full of exploration and his nights haunted by horrifying tales around the campfire, tales only made better by the inclusion of s’mores. He’d spend weeks in anticipation, endlessly prattling on about the adventures he was set to have, the friends he would make, and the fun he most assuredly find. Yes, my best friend was always very excited when summer camp came around, me, not so much. As an antisocial fat kid, summer camp meant something entirely different to me. While most of my friends relished summer camp, to me it just meant lots of solitary hikes (I wasn’t about to punish my friend for my antisocial nature), getting into fights (I was kind of an angry child, so bullies were generally in for a surprise with this fat kid), and pulling pranks all by my lonesome (I had to have fun somehow). You know, it occurs to me that maybe if I didn’t wander off by myself all the time, start fights constantly, and wreck the camp with my pranks, I might have actually made friends there. Huh, well now I feel bad for sending my zombified nephew to turn everyone at Jenness Park a few years back, especially considering that unlike the zombies in Summer Camp, there is no going back now.

Our film begins with a news report about the disappearance of four Americans who were working at an English Immersion Camp in the backwoods of Spain during a winter vacation. We then switch to two days prior where our four camp counselors to be are prepping the former manor house that will act as a campground for the next few weeks. These American counselors have come to Spain in order to further the campers’ lessons in the English language, and although most everything is ready to go, the area is still experiencing a problem thanks to a nearby group of drug addicts that have tampered with the local well. Luckily the manor’s caretaker is already fixing the problem, but the man’s attention is diverted when one of his dogs becomes vicious and consumes her own puppies. One of the counselors does his best to help the poor animal but is himself attacked before the caretaker is forced to put the dog down. Although this situation has a sad ending, the caretaker is at least freed up and is able to fix the water by nightfall, leaving the four counselors to enjoy their last night before the children are due to show up. Wanting to celebrate the well’s repair, the four decide to celebrate with a bottle of wine from the cellar where they find everything covered in a thick layer of pollen that shouldn’t be there, but that quickly becomes the least of their concerns. Without warning, one of the counselors turns into a murderous madman, leading to a panic driven chaos in which the already injured counselor is forced to kill, another turns, and the last is left believing they’re the victim of a deranged slasher. As the situation worsens, a ray of hope shines through, whatever is causing people to lose their minds isn’t permanent, but waiting for the effects to wear off is no easy task, nor is avoiding the screeches the counselors can hear emanating from the woods.

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{Hard to look ahead when you have to keep looking into the forest}

This might just be a lack of understanding on my part, but don’t most summer camps take place during the summer? It’s right there in the name and everything after all. I only ask because I think Summer Camp takes place during the winter which kind of defeats the purpose of calling it Summer Camp. I can’t say for sure because the timeframe isn’t specifically given, but one of the counselors mentions this camp taking place during the school year, and it’s shown snowing a couple of times. Those should both be the biggest clues right there save for a few things:

  1. I’m not a hundred percent sure it doesn’t snow during the summer in parts of Spain even though everything I looked up said it gets unbearably hot during the summertime there.
  2. One of the counselors brings only summer clothes. Sure, she’s supposed to be a spoiled rich brat whose been sheltered most of her life, but even the dumbest people I’ve come across would still remember that wintertime means warm clothes. Only us fat people have what it takes to wear shorts in the snow.
  3. The movie is fucking called SUMMER camp.

Honestly, the season isn’t that important, whether it’s wintertime or summertime isn’t going to affect the movie’s overall impact. As much as I wish they had been a bit clearer, I didn’t notice any event in the film that required a certain time of year for said event to work. It just makes one more critical when a movie can’t even nail down when it’s supposed to take place, more so if the time frame seems to go directly against what the movie is called. Then again, since you already have other aspects of the film to be critical of, like the fact that the movie didn’t seem capable of deciding what it wanted to be, I guess the confusing timeframe is the least of our worries. There are aspects of a slasher, an action thriller, survival horror, psychological horror, a whodunit, and even a monster movie, but it failed to become any of those. I don’t mind when a film decides to mix genres, it’s an effective filmmaking tactic that’s produced some fantastic flicks, but the difference is those films either had a specific genre that was simply being added to or made it clear that there was no underlying theme while Summer Camp couldn’t seem to find its footing. There was a constant switch up where the film followed one specific outline before switching to something that made it feel like I was watching a completely different movie. It was very disorientating and never allowed the viewer to become immersed in the film.

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{That’s her “shocked that winter is cold” face}

It was already hard enough to enjoy Summer Camp with the movie switching up its styles every five or so minutes, adding in characters that were impossible to like made it that much harder. The movie mainly focuses on the four counselors, Will, Christy, Michelle, and Antonio. There are a few minor characters that pop up for miniscule amounts of time like a few of the drug addicts in the woods or the manor’s caretaker, but a good ninety-five percent of the film features only the four counselors. I’m okay with a comedy or television show that features nothing but unlikable characters, one of my favorite shows is It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, but it’s really difficult to enjoy a movie where I don’t care about any of the characters. It’s not the actors’ fault, so I’m not blaming anyone that starred in this, it’s just how they’re written. Two are unlikable just because they’re meant to be unlikable, but two are unlikable solely because of the small annoyances that were written into what their characters did. Antonio and Christy were in the first group, while Will and Michelle were in the second. Antonio is a womanizing jackass who makes up lies about his supposedly close friend Will, and Christy is a spoiled rich brat who throws temper tantrums when she doesn’t get her way. While they were both extremely unlikable, at least they were supposed to be the characters you didn’t like, Michelle and Will on the other hand were just poorly written. Michelle spends a decent chunk of her screen time hinting about some kind of problem, one which has seriously affected her life back home, and goes on about it at odd times (when there is rage fueled cannibal hunting for you in the woods is not quite the right time to call and apologize to you mother). It’s something that didn’t have a place in the film, and was there just to give her a backstory, but in the end it didn’t add anything to her character except to provide another distraction that kept the viewer from getting into the film. Don’t ask me what that problem was because it’s never resolved, though the lack of resolution does get a trade off with a very powerful scene involving Michelle later on, but more on that in a second. Will actually has the most annoying character defect out of all of them though, and it is a really frustrating annoyance. Will is mostly blind without his glasses, yet despite this huge problem, the man loses his glasses every time things go south. I wear glasses, and even though I can see decent enough without them, I still make damn sure the things stay on my face, yet Will loses his constantly. He even gets a second pair later on and loses those too. You’d think a guy with such terrible eye sight would take more care with his glasses, but Will never takes his near blindness too seriously. What’s sad is without the unnecessary backstory for Michelle and the always lost glasses for Will, these two would have been very likable. They’re good characters for the most part, but with their individual issues persistently cropping up, they never really had a chance to grow on you. It’s too bad because as much as there is wrong with Summer Camp, there are a few things done right that make it a good one time watch.

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{Yes, we’re finally getting to the good stuff}

With one exception, the zombies were very well done. Since these zombies are more along the lines of the 28 Days Later “roid rage” variety, they’re a lot more brutal than their undead cousins. They won’t just eat you, though they’re not above taking a few bites for good measure, they’ll beat you, stab you, and rip you apart. They’re mindless beasts with only one goal, doing as much damage to any uninfected person that comes into contact with them. I loved how feral and vicious they were, even the makeup is done in such a way as to make them look very animalistic, which is why it’s so disappointing when they start talking and saying things like “I’m going to get you” or “You fucking bitch.” It made them seem less like murderous psychopaths and more like angry jocks complaining that their prom date didn’t put out. Even worse, there are scenes that show the supposedly mindless brutes smiling at each other or concocting plans together before going back to being instinctual monsters. It was another example of the writers not being sure what they wanted for their film. Had the zombies stayed the rage fueled savages that they started out as, there would have been a huge element of dread added to the film, but once you see them talking or showing normal human emotion, any sense of fear that might have had a chance to build up is completely extinguished. Still, it was a good attempt at creating something terrifying that fell apart only because someone decided to add too many character traits to the film’s zombies.

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{It’s hard to take a rage zombie seriously when it’s acting like a drunken frat boy}

Though the zombies were only done half right, the other bits that kept Summer Camp from being unwatchable were done a lot better. The first is the film’s pacing. Summer Camp starts out in a rather chilling manner and continues to build the tension as the film progresses. They make good use of said tension too, using chaotic or powerfully emotional scenes that catch the viewer off guard due to the rest of the film having such a slow burn. Those emotional scenes were the second thing Summer Camp did right. While there aren’t a whole lot of them that occur, the few that do happen hit you square in the gut. I’d love to give a few illustrations, but I’m trying not to ruin too much here, as I said, it’s a good onetime watch despite everything that’s wrong with it. The one example I think I can give without spoiling too much is the scene in which a particular character dies, and even though I didn’t much care for them, the scene was so spectacularly done that this death had a real impact for me. Lastly, the cinematographer and camera crew should be commended for their excellent work. The camera angles are claustrophobic and chaotic without being headache inducing or nauseating. It adds a lot to the above mentioned tension.

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{I almost forget Will even wears glasses until I see the picture of him}

In the end Summer Camp isn’t a film I’d recommend going out to buy, but it’s worth giving it a watch once. Just one last thing, and this is a bit of a spoiler so stop reading now if you don’t want to know. If you’re hoping for a crazy bit where the kids and the counselors have a huge fight, lose that hope now. There is a small bit towards the end, but for the most part, the campers never come into play.

 

The Undead Review

 

Directed By: Alberto Marini

Starring: Diego Boneta (Scream Queens, City of Dead Men), Jocelin Donahue (Holidays, The House of the Devil), Maiara Walsh (The Starving Games, Zombieland TV Film), Andres Velencoso (The End, 100 Metros)

Written By: Alberto Marini (Sleep Tight, Extinction) and Danielle Schleif (The Condemned)

Released By: Castekai Pictures, Somnium Terrestre, Filmax Group, and Pantelion Films

Release Year: 2015

Release Type: Limited Theatrical Release

MPAA Rating: Rated R

About The Undead Review

When I was alive I was an asshole and after I died remained pretty much the same, if not a little worse. You’d think becoming a member of the walking dead would mellow a person out, no more worrying about awkward small talk with people, no more having to be politically correct, and the entire world is your upright, bipedal buffet. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun as hell to be a zombie, just somewhat irritating at times, especially those times you have to watch a lame movie or read a lame book. Thankfully, when I am forced to watch these films or read those books, I’ve got places like The Undead Review to bitch and moan to my heart’s content. {When he’s not devouring the living or sinking his teeth into a good film The Undead Review (Andy Taylor) spends his time writing his own stories or hunting down the paranormal. Oh, and did we mention his blind dog once saved the world?)
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