The term “meta-slasher” has been floating around horror circles since Scream upended the genre with a self-aware take on it. Before and certainly since, filmmakers have created all sorts of self-aware spins on the classics that lampoon, twist, or pay homage to them each with varying tones and affect. Next to try are Finn Wolfhard (Stranger Things, It) and Billy Bryk (Ghostbusters: Afterlife) who crafted a by-the-numbers pretty-thin take on the camp slasher.
The two make up part of the ensemble cast: a group of camp counselors and tropes ripe for getting slaughtered. There’s a hot girl, a hot guy, a ditz, an artsy one, etc., each sprayed with next generation flare by way of being an influencer or a vegan. In the top spot is Jason (cheeky) (Fred Hechinger, The White Lotus) as the aging twenty-something returning to camp to relive his glory for just one more year. He, along with the rest of the counselors, arrive early to prepare the camp for the arrival of the campers and to socialize and catch up on the year previous. Much of the opening is character introductions to set the scene and let us know just who might be killed and how. During their otherwise typical camp warmups, Jason finds one of the counselors bloodied and in a gruesome tableau and begs the rest of the gang to believe that he’s not doing a camp bit, but that a killer is on the loose. The rest is a collection of killings you expect from a summer camp slasher, held together by a story of youth on the edge.
Hell of a Summer is certainly a feature debut and the young filmmakers have some kinks to iron out. Their passion for horror comedy and the classics is evident in their use of setting, masks, tropes, and twists. But what the fellas created feels a bit shallow and like a collection of scenes that don’t play all the way through. The tropes are a bit thin (although, not every Friday the 13th sequel is completely innocent here either) and many of the kills cut away before the good stuff. Their shots are blanketed in dim light making a lot of it difficult to see and decipher, and the editing creates some difficulties in understanding the geography (there’s a moment where there are two characters in similar outfits and it’s near impossible to tell if it’s an editing error or a reveal).
But it’s not all a wash. As Bobby, Billy Bryk steals the show with his impeccable comedic timing and delivery. He’s the down-on-himself cool kid living in the shadow of Wolfhard’s Chris, and he plays it so well via jokes about being hot and trying to reconcile getting no female attention. It begs for more depth by way of a reveal about his real desires, but the kid shows some real skill in his ability to get a laugh. Others also reveal their chops, the spoken jokes being much more successful than the visual gags (like the peanut butter knife killing bit that refuses to get resolved).
Hell of a Summer isn’t reinventing or spinning slasher tropes the way films like The Final Girls or You Might Be the Killer once did. It’s a much more straight forward retelling that feels like fans of the subgenre taking a stab at making their own. Wolfhard and Bryk are promising young film stars and film fans and with some work could be filmmakers.
Hell of a Summer played the Toronto International Film Festival