Slasher movies have an effective formula. A killer murders victims, evades detection, has a final showdown, gets bested, maybe escapes. It’s an established formula and it has worked for decades. The film may feature absurd situations, narrative conveniences, stupid characters, gratuitous nudity and, of course, gory kills. None of this necessarily makes these films bad. Early entries in the sub-genre such as “Black Christmas” and “Halloween” were genuinely scary, while a sense of fun and some invention, especially on the kill side of things, gave “Friday the 13th” and “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” as well as the various sequels, remakes and rip-offs some entertainment value.
This value is starkly absent from Camp Twilight, a joyless and thunderingly stupid dirge where the viewer may find themselves checking to see how much time is left. One of the key benefits of the slasher is simplicity: Michael Myers returns to his old neighborhood and kills the local teenagers — simple; Fred Kreuger stalks the children of the mob who burned him — simple. The setting of Camp Twilight references “Friday the 13th,” where young adults come to the camp as camp counselors; or indeed the remake as well as “The Cabin in the Woods” where a group of college kids come to enjoy a house by a lake. All simple, and that is all the motivation needed. The simplicity extends to the horny teenagers who wear revealing outfits and run off into the woods to have illicit sex, thus placing them in the killer’s sights.
Camp Twilight misses this simplicity by including unnecessary backstory and convolution. The opening sequence features a news broadcast about the bloody history of the camp, a history that appears to have no impact on the rest of the film. From here, we move to a highly mechanical set-up. Six teenagers, Maria (Brooklyn Haley, “Paranormal Attraction”), Johnny (Cougar MacDowall, “Harry T. Moore”), Danny (Dondre Tuck, “Scooter”), Tori (Angela Gluchowski), Kevin (Harris Sebastian) and Sidney (Hayleigh Hopkins), are informed by their teachers Jessica Bloom (Felissa Rose, “Ugly Sweater Party”) and Jack Warner (Barry Jay Minoff, “The Tombs”) that in order to graduate with their high school final year, they need to spend a weekend at Camp Twilight for extra credit. Does this extra credit involve helping out at the camp, supervising young children, learning new skills such as orienteering or camping? No, it involves sunbathing, a little bit of canoeing and hiking, and lots of sitting around. The one restriction? It’s a tech free weekend so they can’t have their phones. So, it’s a vacation weekend? Apparently. And they get credit for this? It would appear so. Plus, Jessica repeatedly tells the kids how much fun it’s all going to be! On top of this, the horny teenagers have further unnecessary backstories, including existing relationships, unrequited affection and troubled pasts. These lead to whining and sniping among the kids, most overtly in a heavy-handed game of Spin the Bottle.
To complain about the plot in a slasher may seem strange, but if the mechanics of the narrative stand out like this, that indicates the rest of the film is not doing its job. The nonsense of the motivating premise — how does this weekend away doing fun activities (none of which we see) equate to extra credit? — is but the first of the narrative problems. While slasher characters have a reputation for being annoying, the principals in Camp Twilight are so bland, vapid, tedious and obvious that they make the whiny or over-sexed kids from previous franchises seem positively endearing. These kids don’t even qualify as stereotypes: Kevin and Danny are football players, apparently only interested in that except when they complain about not getting any. Johnny is apparently not a jock, except when the dialogue needs him to be. The three girls are cookie-cutter bimbos, with Sidney’s medication for past trauma serving no other purpose than to be a red herring. The teachers are particularly grating, Jessica talking far too much while the attraction between her and Jack is signposted so heavily it feels like an over-emphasized joke (read, not funny). The performances often. Come. Across. Like. Someone. Reading. A. Script, although to be fair the dialogue is so explanatory rather than hinting at character or commenting on theme that one wonders how it could sound anything other than artificial. This problem is most egregious in the film’s finale, when an info-dump of backstory is delivered by monologue and flashback, as performers further explain the plot with very stilted delivery.
If there is anything worse than the writing, it is the direction. Narrative problems can be glossed over with visual style, but everything here is shot inertly and often incompetently. Fades to black between scenes break the flow of the action, robbing the film of continuation that could be provided with a graphic match in terms of color or movement. Shots are often static and go out of focus. There is one instance of shaky handheld footage during a chase, but the rest of the chase is captured in long shots that fail to create spatial unity — the viewer may well wonder how we got from this location to that. There are even night sequences where you could be left wondering where the light is coming from, and if you’re wondering about that, nothing’s working. Worst of all, the editing is seriously sloppy as different shots do not line up, thus breaking the illusion of the drama. There are further glaring pieces of incompetence: A character uses a phone to film his surroundings, but the phone screen is obviously dark; someone holds an umbrella when the ground is clearly dry; an actor playing a dead body can clearly be seen breathing and even blinking!
Some style or verve might give this stillborn turkey a sense of fun, but even basic aspects like sex and violence are boring. Every kill is performed in the same way: A victim goes “Urgh,” and blood spills out of their mouth. There is little build up, sometimes the footsteps of the killer coming up behind the victim are distinctly audible. The kids spend time in their underwear, and even the misogyny feels tired. The worst offender is the “character” of Ms. Monique (Tracy Lear, “Stan the Man”), who might as well be called Ms. Mammaries for reasons that are obvious. Equally forced are the possible homages to other films such as the camp and machete that references “Friday the 13th,” plus a character’s surname being Loomis (guys, “Scream” referenced “Halloween” that way twenty years ago!). The final act takes the film completely off the rails, as characters behave and events unfold for reasons that can only be described as plot, while being shot with all the panache of an instructional video on changing batteries. A thoroughly stupid coda scene might suggest wider ideas or themes, but instead feels tacked on and pointless.
Upon seeing a film this bad, you might wonder if there is something you’re not getting. Is there a parody here? Is the parody so straight-faced that all we need to do is recognize the reference points? Is there an homage for no purpose other than homage? Hard to say, but what can be said is that Camp Twilight is an incompetent, dreary assemblage of torpid and disjointed visuals, labored and nonsensical plotting, that fails to produce anything other than derision.