Tuesday, July 11, 2017

In short: Summer Camp (2015)

Warning: I’m going to spoil a mid-movie plot twist, because it’s really impossible to explain what’s good about the film without it!

Three Americans – Will (Diego Boneta), Christy (Jocelin Donahue) and Michelle (Maiara Walsh) – have signed up as counsellors for a Spanish summer camp for kids in the beginning stages of learning English. Right now, there aren’t any children in the camp – a place that actually is an old mansion in the woods – to leave time for the three Americans and Spanish lead counsellor Antonio (Andrés Velencoso) to get acquainted before the actual work starts.

Alas, there’s something very bad in the water or the air or the saliva of a rather angry dog. Whoever gets infected by it turns pretty much into your classic rage zombie, black eyes, angry screeching, black fluids and all. In a twist on the usual state of affairs, the characters will eventually figure out that the infected don’t actually stay that way and turn back into normal human beings after twenty minutes of carnage during which they may very well have killed or been killed.

Summer Camp – a US/Spanish co-production apparently shot in Spain and directed by Italian Alberto Marini - is a sometimes clever, sometimes effective little neo-zombie movie that uses its central difference from the usual zombie biology to keep things on a smaller scale than I’ve become used to from today’s generally very apocalyptically minded zombie movies, with only a handful of characters and locations. It’s really a clever twist on the standards to enable this, though I would have wished the film had spent more time on the psychological impact probably having done horrible things while being a zombie might have on the characters. But then, Summer Camp really isn’t much for psychological depth.

The characters, despite as decent a cast as a low budget movie made in the 2010s could ask for, are not very distinctively drawn, the few bits of characterisation feeling rather perfunctory and not really important for what’s going to happen at all. This isn’t strictly a weakness, though. The film clearly just doesn’t want to spend much time without any zombie action, and once the violent part of the movie starts at a quick twenty minutes in, there’s a relentless series of violence, suspense and some set pieces that are just right for the film’s scale. There’s nary a moment where the film tries to bite off something bigger than it can chew, and generally little that doesn’t work to provide an exciting time. The characters get hysterical and make stupid decisions throughout, but they do so on the believable scale of people trapped in a horrifying situation they could never have been prepared for.

On the visual side, there’s little to complain nor to be excited about. Marini gets the job in a straightforward and effective manner that fits the film’s merrily grim tone nicely. For my taste, the director tends to overuse shaky cam during action sequences but your mileage may vary there.

Summer Camp also ends on quite the high, with a climactic little siege sequence that feels claustrophobic and properly panicky, and which is resolved in exactly the right way for the film that came before, followed by a very memorable nasty horror movie ending. It’s all very satisfying, really.

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