It's been awhile since I sat down and watched a fun slasher flick, and I'm happy to report that Spirit Camp (2009) is a perfectly serviceable film that helped scratch the itch. The set-up is similar to countless other genre films: a group of teenage girls attending a secluded cheerleader camp are stalked and picked off one by one.
There's the usual cast of characters, including the Bitch, the Slut, the Ditz, the Fatty, and the Loner. This roster is joined by a handful of characters with the convenient purpose of doubling as red herrings. Over the course of the hour and thirty minutes, we will watch as these unfortunate souls lose their dignity and their lives at what should have been a fun summer romping around and getting laid at Cheerleader camp.
Spirit Camp is a fairly paint by the numbers experience, but this isn't necessarily a bad thing. Let's be honest for a brief moment- the formula is one of the reasons why we fans continue to watch these films. Sure, they're predictable, but that's just part of the fun. I love watching these films to see how they deviate from the expected, to see just how they intend to carve out their own niche. Spirit Camp does this by making the loner character the main protagonist. Played ably by the attractive Roxy Vandiver, the conflicted Nikki is the only character written with any depth and is thus the only character the audience ever really cares about.
The film hinges on Nikki's likability, given that she's the only competent character that displays any use of logic. This is an interesting juxtaposition since the character's loner punk-aesthetic and criminal background seems initially intended to distance the audience from her. The beginning of the film is written in such a way as to reinforce this feeling as she is the last of the primary characters to be introduced. Further toying with the audience's expectations, Nikki is one of only two characters to appear bare-chested, and she does so twice. This subliminally helps cement her bad-girl attitude and is really trying to make you doubt whether the character will survive or not. It's both an interesting and a refreshing approach to the Final Girl concept.
The main group of girls arrive at the camp and it doesn't take long for the killings to begin. It's sort of odd when characters start disappearing and no one really questions where they've gone. This is of course mentioned in some passing dialogue, but the subject is quickly dismissed by the disinterested characters. As I've pointed out before, directly addressing a plot hole does not excuse lazy writing. Still, given the overall quality of the film and its low budget nature, I'm inclined to give them a pass on this minor nit-pick. Just be aware that some of the standard slasher tropes definitely still apply.
As long as we're on the topic of the standard slasher tropes, there are so many red herrings in this film it's laughable. There's the old, eccentric gas station attendant, the pervy local sheriff, the backwoods camp handy man, the elder mother whose own child died at the camp years ago, and so on. Red herrings are part of the slasher formula, and the screenwriter wasn't shy throwing them about. Sadly, I felt like the final reveal was telegraphed a little too early in the film, so most of these false leads rang a bit more hollow than they maybe should have.
On the technical side of things, I feel like I have to acknowledge all of the hard work that filmmaker Kerry Beyer poured into this movie. This man acted in, directed, wrote, edited and did the cinematography for this film. There's good use of lighting and composition, and some creative editing that make good use of several composite matte shots. Given how well made the film is technically, I'm very interested to see future projects from Mr. Beyer. My only request would be to work on the make-up effects. Many of the kill sequences were repetitive and I'm fairly sure I saw the exact same axe-wound appliance used on more than one actor.
The Bottomline: Spirit Camp is a predictable but solid slasher film. It is well made and competently acted. Definitely worth a rental for genre fans.