“HAPPY CAMP” (Movie Review)
Writer-Director Josh Anthony and his feature debut, the found footage piece HAPPY CAMP, believe heavily in foreshadowing. Admirably employing the POV horror-standard prosumer cameras with some semblance of style—instead of simply the illusion of rawness—the filmmaker focuses on a statue of Sasquatch upon the main characters’ traffic circle arrival in the titular town; Happy Camp the town and HAPPY CAMP the movie will revolve around the possibility of this beast. Moments later, with the camera up front in the driver’s seat as the Winnebago starts to break down, we know this is the final destination for all.
Note: Spoilers may follow
But with such clear intent for the finale, HAPPY CAMP ends up meandering as it attempts to deviate into Red Herrings, even if the pockets of style hint at a larger subtext. In the film, Anne (Anne Taylor) wants to help her boyfriend Michael (Michael Barbuto) confront a traumatic moment in his childhood. Together with friends Josh (played by writer-director Anthony, who’s the rare successfully comedic character in a found footage film) and Teddy (Teddy Gilmore), they return to Happy Camp where Michael spent time in the care of foster parents. His life with Walt and Sandy Tanner seemed to promise stability, despite their place in the lower-middle class, until his brother Dean suddenly went missing. Understandably, the grief felt by the Tanners losing their biological child broke down any possibility of a happy life in Happy Camp. Thus, Michael returned to the system.
The imagery of a place broken down by the economy and rampant missing persons doesn’t just provide a neat contrast to the name of this town, but is what’s strongest about the slight, short film. In rediscovering his youth, Michael visits old friends and inhabitants in run down houses and trailers and bars, and HAPPY CAMP—in flashes—takes on the look of a candid documentary about depressed, rural America. The movie seems uninterested in fleshing that out however, instead focusing on the (possibly dangerous) anxiety Michael feels by recalling so much about his time there.
Problem is, that feels underdeveloped as well. The camera captures townspeople leering, whispering at Michael. When he’s overwhelmed or flustered, he walks off, leaving the ensemble of friends searching through wilderness and an unwelcoming village. Considering the compressed timeframe, Michael’s actions feel less those of someone with something to hide, and more so melodramatic. Before long, the audience is as irritated with him as his own friends.
Also before long (again, this is about 75 minutes), the real threat reveals itself and breaks any tension the film otherwise successfully built—however undercooked, there’s still something to be said for being alone in the woods. In a long shot, we’re intrigued by the monstrous figure far way. When the beast on attacks, it’s revealed as a digital creation that ultimately looks as shoddy as the homes in Happy Camp, and leaves the viewer hoping it’s only upwards from here, in the current indie horror Bigfoot boom.
HAPPY CAMP is now available on iTunes and VOD.