Summer Camp (2015)
★★ / ★★★★
“Summer Camp,” written by Alberto Marini and Danielle Schleif, might have been a stronger piece given that the screenplay and direction seem to be aware of the genre conventions and are willing to poke fun of them somewhat. For instance, the opening images hint that the material is a slasher flick with a crazed man observing unsuspecting females in the woods but it turns out to be something else entirely. It gives the impression that the filmmakers wish to have fun with their work but ultimately are unable to because of, perhaps, studio expectations or other external factors. What results is a film with great potential to produce both scares and laughter but ending up not as entertaining as it should have been.
The plot revolves around four camp counselors—three Americans and one Spaniard—in rural Spain getting acquainted and readying themselves for children to arrive the next day. Although the day before is uneventful for the most part, the groundskeeper (Xavier Capdet) claims that one of the dogs for the pet farm must be put down due to rabies. Will (Diego Boneta) claims he is “practically a vet” and so he decides to examine the animal up close, despite his fellow counselors’ disapproval (Jocelin Donahue, Maiara Walsh, Andrés Velencoso), since he has serious doubts that the animal is indeed rabid. While just a few inches away, however, the suspicious animal lunges at Will and breaks his skin.
Impressive is the way it takes its time to reveal the actual cause of the infection. But a great opportunity is missed when the writers neglect to include a scientific mind in the group, one who is designed to explain to laypeople what might be going on in a clear and concise way. Sometimes entertainment value comes in the form of setting up an easily understood experiment, observing what happens, and planning what to do next rather than providing a repetition of images involving infected people running, snarling, and attacking.
There is humor in the relationship among the counselors. We get the impression they do not like one another completely given that they do not know each other that well yet. Well, what better way is there to get to know someone’s humanity and core values than being thrusted in an increasingly desperate life-or-death situation? These men and women hold particular importance on “trust exercises” in the beginning of the film—their eventual predicament is exactly that but amplified to an extreme.
Chases are unimpressive for the most part. Since it is likely that audiences have seen numerous fast-running zombie pictures before, the camera work and editing designed to construct an intense chase experience are rather expected and standard. Several times I found myself outside of the action rather than involved in it. What a letdown because the camp takes place in a beautiful and massive mansion. Why not create a specific sense of place so that we, too, become familiarized with the rooms, corridors, and potential hiding spots? So, when the action comes around eventually, we have an idea, for example, where the characters might be running toward—or if such a hallway nearby is a dead end.
Directed by Alberto Marini, “Summer Camp” attempts to create a semblance of fun in the material by injecting humor—intended or otherwise— in the circumstances. However, it fails to capitalize on the creativity and curiosity of the infection and how it works. In addition, the characters could have been written smarter and more proactive. Seeing them crying and screaming after a while gets exhausting and annoying given the fact that eventually they come to anticipate what to expect as they learn more about what they’re up against.