Camp Cold Brook, 2020.
Directed by Andy Palmer.
Starring Chad Michael Murray, Danielle Harris, Michael Eric Reid, Candice De Visser, Courtney Gains, and Doug Van Liew.
A paranormal team sets to check out an abandoned summer camp where a mass murder had taken place decades previous.
Andy Palmer’s Camp Cold Brook left me feeling just that, disconnected and cold. In the cinematic ring of paranormal investigators who come in contact with actual ghosts when chasing their last “big break,” Alex Carl’s script evokes indie horror structures of past, present, and assured future. There’s mythology at play; witches, curses, exploding lightbulbs, glitchy video feeds. Symbols and haunted Oklahoma forestation marked by a town’s hushed tragedy. It’s just, well, visible budgetary constraints do an already generic campfire story no distinguishable favors.
“Haunt Squad,” a presumed popular ghost hunting program, is on its last legs. Jack (Chad Michael Murray) learns his crew won’t have another season past their current, which he ensures is a huge mistake for investors. After some smooth talking, he’s granted one more chance. If the Haunt Squad can deliver a ninety-minute special that spikes ratings through the roof, they’ll be inked for future episodes. Techie Angela (Danielle Harris) and Director of Photography Kevin (Michael Eric Reid) are low on ideas, but fourth member Emma (Candice De Visser) has the answer: Camp Cold Brook. Untouched since a 90s summertime massacre that left all attending children dead. Maybe, as the Haunt Squad will find out, abandoned with good reason.
As Jack’s team researches the sinister undertakings at Camp Cold Brook, Palmer’s vision takes its nastiest, most deranged turn. Camp Cold Brook was owned by a religious community who accidentally killed a (maybe) witch’s child. Legend states she sought equal retribution, which Palmer shows in full view during dinnertime. At this moment, even with the distorted flashback frame overlay, Camp Cold Brook is the movie I wish it remained for the surrounding eightyish minutes. Innocents slaughtered, black magic conjured, and yes, child endangerment in a way comparable films frequently avoid. Go big! Murder the children in your horror movie.
Elsewhere, lackluster visual effects make for a rather muted sensation of terror. Blurry smudges on surveillance feeds (cut-rate spirits), or lifeless spiders placed on webbing, or a cigarette smoke apparition that’s somewhat indistinguishable. Horror architectures are all very “what’s that noise” followed by one or two shadowy figures lurking in the background – then nothing. Scares aren’t built for adrenalized or paralyzing highs, despite the Haunt Squad’s gyro camera equipment that delivers smooth and focused found footage viewpoints. More thought and effort is put into cobweb covering placements inside rundown cabin interiors, which is a major problem.
As Jack, Angela, Kevin, and Emma are tormented by lost adolescent souls, tensions clash as a means of explaining away somewhat brainless decisions. Characters always wandering off alone, jaded by their past experiences of never confirming the afterlife exists. It’s an aged formula of doubt, disbelief, then acceptance once salvation is too late, but not particularly enthusiastic. The all-seeing witch supposedly orchestrating Jack’s first authentic supernatural encounter merely saunters around without inciting rapturous vengeance. Just as the above-mentioned insufficient spookiness plays one whimpering note, the film’s overarching villain suffers a similar fate. No intensity, no bluster.
Once we reach Act III, we’re already a bit underwhelmed. Then Jack learns the truth about Camp Cold Brook and…everything wraps up in a matter of minutes. A film that struggles with buildup then dashes to the finish line by tossing a few characters to the side and blacks out sans sustained conflict or climax. Just a brief riverside confrontation with a bruised head, gunshots, and what lurks beneath the water’s surface. Never exceedingly aggressive upon final attacks, timidness always the apparent tonality.
Camp Cold Brook – from performances (nothing more than character outlines, even Murray and Harris) to execution – begins and ends with the same level of neutered excitement. You’ll get your telegraphed monitor jump scares. You’ll watch as assertive skeptics are turned into believers. You’ll question in-moment universe rules that warp reality but only for a necessary scene, grasp for *something* creepy, and suffer frustration as execution fails to elevate plotted expectations. A horror film that checks all its boxes, but – and I know Andy Palmer’s capable of greater achievements because I’ve seen (and loved) The Funhouse Massacre – doesn’t rise above base-value appeal.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Matt spends his after-work hours posting nonsense on the internet instead of sleeping like a normal human. He seems like a pretty cool guy, but don’t feed him after midnight just to be safe (beers are allowed/encouraged). Follow him on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd (@DoNatoBomb).