More Like Crappy Camp! Just Kidding, It’s OK.
DIRECTED BY JOSH ANTHONY/2014
The found-footage horror film genre has become awfully crowded as of late. In the decade and a half since Blair Witch Project we have dozens of copy cats, two legitimate franchises (Paranormal Activity and V/H/S), a vastly underrated TV Show (The River) and one of my favorite movies of the last five years, Trollhunter. Into this found-footage fracas comes Happy Camp, produced by Drew Barrymore (so that’s what she’s been up to).
Happy Camp follows four amateur filmmakers investigating the hundreds of mysterious disappearances that have taken place in Northern California in the last quarter-century. There’s the sarcastic white male Michael (Michael Barbuto), the other, fatter, sarcastic white male Teddy (Teddy Gilmore), the silent-type white male who is the actual director of the movie Josh (Josh Anthony), and the sarcastic white female Anne (Anne Taylor) who is the fake director of the movie. The budget did not allow for imaginative character names, obviously. This cadre of thirty-somethings with not much else to do have ventured into the backwoods of NorCal in a beat-up RV—begin taking bets on when the RV breaks down—that is conveniently fitted with security cameras.
“Happy Camp”’s greatest strength is the ease of which it establishes a creepy mood. The West Coast woods, along with their abandoned cabins, are concentrated atmosphere in a bottle.
Their destination: the ironically named Happy Camp, a town with a higher elevation than population, each denizen a grizzled hick begging to be featured in an Errol Morris documentary. It’s a town where the bar is as much an institution as the fire department, the women look like bigfoot, and the men look like they’ve been mauled by the women. One of the group’s own (Michael) grew up here and suffered through the trauma of losing his own older brother Dean to the woods so many years ago. They only found half of a shoe and a few threads of Dean’s clothes; his disappearance was the harbinger of hundreds of similar abductions (attacks?). Soon it dawns on our amateur filmmakers that there is much more to Happy Camp than they desire to document, as erratic behavior from within the group and hostile behavior from the natives set up the inevitable “we need to GTFO” finale. Will they leave as—ahem—happy campers?
Happy Camp’s greatest strength is the ease of which it establishes a creepy mood. The West Coast woods, along with their abandoned cabins, are concentrated atmosphere in a bottle. There’s a reason most low-budget horror movies take place in dank woods. The real life townies—all of whom have an opinion on the out-of-towners—are often more believable during their scenes than the main players are in theirs. Three of the actors (Anthony, Barbuto, and Taylor) pull double-duty having written the movie as well. They succeed in executing a just about average and brief (75 minutes!) found-footage flick. Its main weakness—other than the fact that you’ve already seen this movie dozens of times before—is the pacing of the second and third acts. It takes way too long to get to the punch, and once it does, Happy Camp closes shop much too quickly. Also, you might not be a fan of the reveal, but it doesn’t cheat and has its own tongue-in-cheek quality.
If you hate movies for not being the best thing that ever happened to you, you’ll probably hate this one too. But if you’re craving some light horror this week, Happy Camp is worth a visit.