REVIEW: Summer Camp (2015)

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Two scary things about this movie: zombies and Southern Europe.

The Breakdown

Summer Camp is a 2015 low-budget zombie movie set in Spain and directed by Alberto Morini – one of the producers of [REC] (another Iberian horror film) and The Conjuring.

The story revolves around three Americans who travel to Spain to work as camp counsellors, since the camp is in large teaching English to Spanish kids whose parents can’t afford to send them to the UK or the US.

They are Will (Diego Boneta), Michelle (Maiara Walsh) and Christy (Jocelin Donahue). They are being trained on site by their Spanish supervisor, Antonio (Andres Velencoso) and are learning different skills such as running through the forest blindfolded and being guided only by directions given by their colleagues.

The exercise is supposed to foment trust – which becomes a central theme throughout the movie and a virtue poorly exercised by our main characters.

What you should know is that Will is constantly on the prowl, already setting his sights on both Christy and Michelle. Antonio then reveals to the latter how the camp has been having troubles recruiting females due to Will’s previous playboy antics.

Antonio is the leader figure who anyone would have seriously mistaken to be the main protagonist of this movie. While Christy hails from a rich family and has problems adjusting to the camping life and refuses to participate in activities. Finally, Michelle is the sexy bad-ass a-la Lara Croft whom you would expect to take on the antagonists single-handedly  – again a disappointment.

Problems arise for these young Americans in two ways: one, summer camps in Europe are unlike the typical campsites which are close to lakes and hospitable nature – nope, not in this movie. Instead, they get an abandoned manor in the middle of a mountainous forest area surrounded by junkies and drifters living in their tents and RV’s.

The second problem, and it may either be worse or not your call, is that their friends one by one turn into hyper-aggressive zombies who foam a black substance out of their mouths.

So how exactly do they survive when they’re surrounded by blood-thirsty creatures? Also, will getting bitten by an infected person turn them?

The Spoilers (skip this portion if you don’t want any!)

So as mentioned previously, the movie shows our characters running blindfolded through the woods. They seem to enjoy the exercise except for our rich snob Christy, who nags Michelle to *secretly* take off her blindfold as she was unwilling to cooperate with her directions.

Bad-ass, tomboy Michelle gets sick of her whinge and decides to abandon her in the middle of the forest blindfolded and her hands tied behind her back.

The prospect of that situation is frightening enough, just think of the possibilities! We see the director try to make the most of this situation by bringing in a third person perspective of a man in the woods staring suspiciously at the blindfolded Christy.

The camera slowly pans towards her, giving the feel that something was about to end her whining with a good slash to the throat. Instead, this mysterious figure instead uses his blade to unbind Christy’s wrists.

Thinking it was just Will or Antonio, Christy storms out annoyed believing she was being pranked on. What really boggles my mind regarding this incident is that this man was never given a reveal as to who he was anywhere in the movie.

The plot pretty much just dropped him, which begs the question what was the point of that sequence to begin with?

Perhaps the most laudable innovation in this movie was the creative strategy it employed to keep viewers guessing and deliver plot twists so cleverly.

Early on, Will gets bitten by a dog that mysteriously became aggressive all of a sudden. To anyone well acquainted with zombie flicks, this is our cue for the first infection. There is a scene where Antonio is crouched down looking at bottles in storage, Will is seen visibly sick and barely able to hold himself up. We see him walking slowly, rather suspiciously, towards a crouched Antonio.

Now, one would think that this means Will has turned and is about to jump on an unsuspecting Antonio but no! Actually, the latter turned while crouched on the ground and goes ape-shit on Will. Our infected counsellor gets killed in a fight with Will in self-defense.

You would think that this is another archetypal zombie horror flick where being bitten by another infected turns you into one – but the unconventional method which our characters become infected is another bright spot of this movie.

Like I said, it surprises you in the most clever ways.

The Good

Summer Camp surprises, in a positive way.

Usually horror movies – especially the zombie/horror genre – recycle old plot lines and there’s always just one way of transmitting the virus that turns people into zombies.

But this movie is a rare anomaly. The transmission method of the virus is very unorthodox; it combines elements of Cabin Fever and [REC] – which just so happens is a movie Alberto Morini was involved with!

Then there’s the musical ensemble that does a stellar job of setting the mood for a frighteningly, creepy zombie movie where the chase scenes leave you on the edge of your seat. The audio work was stupendous in this movie, all the way down to the sound of the zombies’ screeches – truly spine-tingling.

It also breaks the cliche horror movie archetypes. The gallant, responsible, boy-next-door type who is well-mannered and level-headed does not end up the last man standing – that goes to the callous, irresponsible one.

Finally, the unconventional nature of the zombies was commendable as well. The screeches were nerve-inducing, but what was even creepier was their ability to communicate. In typical zombie films the infected become permanent, brainless creatures just acting impulsively.

In Summer Camp the zombies retain some human intelligence; they are able to communicate and it is when the zombies chase their targets while addressing them by their first names that make this horror flick so unique.

The Bad

This review has been full of praise for this unknown film so far, but don’t be mistaken in thinking that it is flawless – this is a critique of it after all.

Summer Camp’s storyline played out TOO quickly. By the 30 minute mark they were already looking for a resolution. It felt as though the movie did not allot ample time for character development and condemned their characters to whatever first impression us viewers made of them.

There were also some inconsistencies throughout the film; one significant one was the lack of zombies or infected individuals. We hear so many screeches around the setting, it was reminiscent of a Left4Dead sound warning of an incoming horde where the screams would overwhelm you. The volume of attacking zombies would pale in comparison though.

If there aren’t that many zombies, can we really call this a zombie flick?

Another noteworthy mention was the strangers who helped Christy break free from her bonds at the start of the film as well as the other vagrants who were shown at the early part of the story: what happened to them?

The amount of screeches gave the idea that these hobos had turned themselves and we were expecting a horde of zombies to attack: never happened. Throughout the film only 3-4 infected persons appeared at a time.

The amount of emphasis devoted to these trampers led us to believe that they would play an important, significant role – what had transpired was anything but.

The Verdict

Overall, Summer Camp offers a fresh new narrative of a zombie/horror flick. It leaves viewers guessing frequently and has plot twists throughout the film. It also had 1 or 2 light-hearted moments, which the director nailed perfectly.

There is a rule where if a horror movie attempts to do comedy they need to either go hard or go home, because it would be cringe if the joke falls flat. Instead, what we got from Summer Camp were sporadic moments that made one laugh interwoven with a shitload of nerve-wrecking moments.

This film is seriously underrated to an extent that it does not even have its own Wikipedia page! Hopefully if this blog implores you to give it a chance and this movie gains traction its fortunes will change and it may be able to etch its place as one of the more decent zombie flicks of this decade.

This movie gets a solid B+ rating.

The Babe

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Maiara Walsh is best known for her role as Meena in Disney’s Corey in the House, then she flirted with more mature roles by starring in Season 6 of Desperate Housewives. In this movie, she proves her versatility by showcasing sexy and fierce and one can only hope she becomes a regular in this genre.

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