by Carrie Specht
Some ideas for a film start out pretty good and for some reason just turn into a great big disappointment when you actually put them onto the screen. That’s the case with Happy Camp. Although I am not a fan of the “found footage” genre, the film had a pretty good idea that seems to have begun with the premis of a group of twenty-somethings documenting a friend’s return to his creepy childhood town where hundreds of people (including his little brother) have over the years gone missing. But sadly, the concept mutates into a found footage horror film. Like the residents of the remote Northern California town where the story is set, the production of Happy Camp the movie went missing somewhere along the way and came to a horrible ending.
When I first read about the concept I actually believed it was a real documentary about a strange little place where there have been nearly as many people who have gone missing over the years as those who currently live there (missing people over twenty years: 627, current population: 1100). I suppose I didn’t read the press release closely enough, or the misdirection is a clever part of the promotional strategy. Either way, I was intrigued and continued to be until about ten minutes into the film. That’s when I began to suspect the worst, and by twenty minutes in I was certain that the plot that once had great possibilities was nothing more than another imitation of The Blair Witch Project with a supposedly clever twist. Unfortunately, it was a twist that I feared was going to be pretty feeble. You will feel the same way the moment the group of friends roll into town in their fully camera equipped RV and see a larger than life image of a local legend. I won’t ruin that moment of stunned disappointment for you by telling you exactly what that tribut is, but I literally scoffed and said out loud, “oh, please no”.
Although the film becomes rather tiresome once you realize the direction it’s going, the cast is for the most part very likable with the exception of the girl who gets pretty annoying with her increasingly frequent use of the expletive, “guys”! And in case you’re wondering the dictionary definition of expletive is, “a word that contributes nothing to meaning but suggests the strength of feeling of the speaker”. In this case it made the girl, Annie sound like a college girl mad at her buddies during a drunken party.
I went into this film wanting to like it. However, Happy Camp did a very good job of removing that desire from me every step of the way. Most insulting to the viewer is the sudden ending that appears to be attempting a shocking twist that you’ll see coming a mile away. You’re going to be hoping that the film isn’t going there, but your hope will be in vain. And worst of all is a what seems to be tacked on last few minutes that for the first time introduces the concept that everything you watched was found footage. Duh! Add in the cliched cue music (for those sudden scares), and the illogically selective use of camera angles from supposedly constantly running cameras and you have a mess of a film that could have been so much more if only a little more effort had gone into it. Happy Camp is one to be missed.