First published by Twitch (now known as Screen Anarchy)
There must be something in the Andalusian water to explain the ability of Spanish filmmakers to create so much genre cinema of the very highest order. Alberto Martini has long been in the background of this tendency, playing a role in the production of Iberian stunners like the [Rec] series, Sleep Tight (which he also scripted) and The Last Days – and now that he is finally stepping into the director’s chair, his feature debut proves a savvy fireside gathering of different horror forms.
At the very start a news report announces that three Americans who were working at a summer camp in Spain have gone missing, and “the chances of finding them alive are slim.” Cut to two days earlier, and we see one of these (probably doomed) working tourists, Michelle (Maiara Walsh), running through the treeline, blindfolded, her hands tied behind her back, with a male figure close at her heels. This, it quickly turns out, is not a hoary killer-in-the-woods routine but a trust-building exercise between the Camp El Buho counsellors before their young wards arrive.
While from this point on Summer Camp repeatedly wrong-foots characters and viewers alike with tropes and scenarios that seem all too familiar but are then slyly reoriented, trust between the counsellors will remain a key theme, as Michelle, Will (Diego Boneta) and Christy (Jocelin Donahue) have their loyalties and team spirit tested by an outbreak of murderous madness that will keep pitting them against each other.
Unfolding with the same sense of paranoid derangement as the infection whose ravages it observes, Summer Camp remains deft in its pacing and endless narrative surprises even as its characters become increasingly hobbled by a succession of injuries to their legs, feet and other body parts. Mixing aspects of the camp slasher, zombie flicks, Cabin Fever, Shrooms and Who Can Kill A Child? into a heady homebrew – and a genre jamboree – Summer Camp is always several steps ahead of us, and hilariously mean-spirited to boot. After spending so long hiding in the dark shadows of Spanish genre cinema, Marini has emerged a fully grown, freakily fun guy.
© Anton Bitel