Happy Camp has been receiving a modicum of buzz, perhaps because of Drew Barrymore’s name being attached to the product, and maybe even because it seems to fall in line with the out-of-nowhere trend of Bigfoot movies popping up in the genre. (Seriously, what are we up to now, like six?) And it could be that these are the reasons that many viewers have been watching the trailer and still thinking “Yeah, that looks like it could be original.”
The premise really isn’t as awful as a lot of the found footage horror movies.
Mike’s brother went missing in Happy Camp, a small camping community near Klamath in Northern California, and his girlfriend urges him to revisit the town and try to recall some of the memories of the incident seeing as he has none. Happy Camp has had over 627 missing people in the last 27 years so the small town starts off odd before the tape even gets rolling.That’s not all that’s odd. It’s strange that Annie hires a small crew, Teddy and Josh, to record the entire trip. It’s even stranger that they do so with two handheld cameras, both of extremely high definition, but also by driving in an RV that has been fitted with cameras on the inside and outside. (Not to mention that it is mentioned they just bought it that way.) So, while Annie drags Mike on this emotional path of remembrance we are introduced to various townsfolk, none of whom take very kindly to “flat landers” being in their woods.
The entire film has a very Blair Witch vibe. Female documentarian. Woodsy townsfolk who warn of encroaching too much into the wilderness. Lo-fi close ups of faces with blaring camera lights washing out everything in sight. One really important ingredient is missing though: Tension. Whereas the Blair Witch crew was able to take a simple story and amplify with ever building tension and an interesting back story, Happy Camp just wastes time with no clarification of any plot movement, all of which actually occurs in the last 15 minutes of the film, and wearing out the viewer with annoying and whiny characters. Mike cries a lot, Annie whines a lot, and Josh and Teddy sure do like dropping the F-bomb. That’s about all of the character development we see.
Sometimes, a lot of times, found footage follows a tried and true formula – story with little or no pay off until the last fifteen minutes of the movie. And sometimes it works. Paranormal Activity is still a shining example of how to slowly reward the viewer but didn’t completely cash out until the end. So, if you’re hoping that Happy Camp managed to blow about 70 minutes of exposition so that an amazing last ten minutes could possibly make up for some of it, you’d be wrong. What a horrible pay out. Using terrible CGI, and probably half of their budget, the crew of Happy Camp pays out with early 2000’s video game-style animation. Brief spoilers here, but the creature they create looks somewhere between a mix of the troll in the first Harry Potter and one of the demons from Stay Alive.
A sage word of advice: if anyone ever compares anything about a movie to Stay Alive you should stay far away from it.
Josh and Mike of the movie are also the writer and directors of the flick, Josh Anthony and Michael Barbuto. They haven’t done much in the way of film and unfortunately with this under their belt they might not do much more. Happy Camp is a drowse inducing snore that wastes a decent plot with bad dialogue, no payoff, and an insipid plot. Do yourself a favor and just wait for Willow Creek.