Summer Camp, 2015.
Directed by Alberto Marini.
Starring Jocelin Donahue, Diego Boneta, Maiara Walsh, Andres Velencoso.
Four young Americans sign up to work as counsellors in a remote Spanish camp, but visions of a fun-filled summer quickly fade when one of them suddenly snaps and attacks the others. Before the group even realise what’s happening, a rage-inducing virus begins to take hold, spreading rapidly among the counsellors who must turn on one another if they have any hope of surviving the night.
The popularity of the undead has spread like a virus in recent years, but with so many zombie movies out there, how do filmmakers keep those rotten corpses fresh for public consumption? For decades, zombie films stuck to the tried and tested formula of George A. Romero’s iconic shambling hordes, but these days, we now have corpses that can run, jump and even swarm over barricades like insects. Some are intelligent, some share a hive mind and then there are those who act out of sheer unstoppable rage.
‘Rage’ zombies became prevalent after the success of 28 Days Later, but Spanish horror Rec gave Danny Boyle’s classic a run for its money just a few years after. Unfortunately, the sequels inevitably diminished in quality, but those looking for a zombie fix in the vein of this killer franchise need look no further. The team behind Rec are back with Summer Camp, the directorial debut of screenwriter Alberto Marini.
The influence of Rec can be felt throughout the story of camp counsellors infected by a mysterious, rage-inducing virus, but Summer Camp is far more original in its approach than that would suggest. Initially, creepy hillbillies in the woods and sexual chemistry between the four young leads all screams ‘generic horror’, but Marini pruposely misleads his audience in this manner, turning conventions on their head once the true nature of the infection is revealed.
After Maiara Walsh’s character contracts the infection and terrorises the surviving counsellors, Will (Diego Boneta) finally gains the upper hand when the unthinkable happens. Without a cure or help of any kind, the infection suddenly subsides naturally on it’s own, that is, until the other counsellors each become enraged in turn.
Just like that, a fairly generic zombie infection movie subverts everything you thought you knew, developing into a brutal game of cat and mouse where the victims become monsters in a heartbeat. Constantly switching these roles successfully sustains tension for the entirety of Summer Camp’s running time, keeping audiences guessing throughout.
As the premise would suggest, gore features regularly in Summer Camp and fortunately, Marini doesn’t disappoint in this regard. The numerous death scenes are satisfyingly gruesome without descending into the gorenography popularised by films like Saw and the mechanics of each attack are refreshingly inventive. Sound is also key for horror films of this type, so Marini wisely uses music sparingly, building more tension when it does come into play.
The supporting characters of Summer Camp remain on the periphery for the most part, so it’s up to the four young leads to carry the weight of the film on their shoulders. Marini’s cast are all charismatic, elevating characters that could have been two-dimensional in the wrong hands, but Boneta and Jocelin Donahue are particularly impressive, sharing a fraught chemistry together onscreen.
Moments of obvious foreshadowing and the protagonists occasional lapses in judgment hold Summer Camp back from iconic status, but Marini’s script is one of the most intelligent horror screenplays we’ve seen in some time, throwing in a number of effective twists that naturally develop within the context of the story. Summer Camp is one of those rare ‘zombie’ movies that adds something fresh to a genre overwhelmed with hordes of average material. Let’s just hope a distributor picks Marini’s debut up soon, as this is exactly the kind of film horror fans want and need in their annual Halloween movie binges.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★