HELL OF A SUMMER | United States of America, Canada | 2023 | 88m | English
Starring: Fred Hechinger, Abby Quinn, Billy Bryk, Finn Wolfhard, Pardis Saremi, D'Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai
Directed By: Finn Wolfhard & Billy Bryk
Starring as a pair of horny teenagers looking to score with their fellow counsellors at the rustic Camp Pineway, Wolfhard and Bryk join a veritable murderer’s row of would-be victim archetypes from himbo to mean girl, in a collective fight to survive the night after a slasher begins to wreak havoc the weekend before the campers are due to arrive.
The most prominent character of the bunch is Jason, an older, keener counsellor who refuses to accept that he has possibly outgrown the position. Portrayed by Fred Hechinger (the Fear Street trilogy) with an amusingly manic bombast, Jason’s eccentricity makes him the number one suspect once the bodies start piling up. Could his arrested development have manifested in murder, or is he your vintage red herring? His name is Jason after all….
No matter the twist, first-time directors Wolfhard and Bryk nimbly keep all the slicing and dicing on the lighter side of the genre, pinning a sincere heart on its sleeve, and not merely on the pointy end of a machete.
TIFF REVIEW BY: Darren Zakus
RATING 3. 5 out of 5
Hell of a Summer is an impressive filmmaking debut from Finn Wolfhard and Billy Bryk who have captured both the terror and entertainment of the teen summer camp slasher sub genre with this funny, thrilling and flat out enjoyable horror film.
Slasher films have been a staple of the horror genre for decades. The sub genre has had a fascination with the summer camp setting, with multiple films like Friday the 13th, The Burning and Sleepaway Camp all finding great entertainment value in a masked killer hunting down and brutally killing young camp counselors. Making their feature film writing and directorial debut, Stranger Things’s Finn Wolfhard and his friend and fellow Canadian actor Billy Bryk show their expertise behind the camera in directing this ensemble cast while serving up the bloody goodness horror fans have come to expect from summer camp clashers in a truly entertaining addition to the genre.
While opening up the camp before campers arrive, a group of summer camp counselors are terrorized by a masked killer, whose mission is to pick them off one by one. The story feels like Friday the 13th, but there is a whodunnit nature to it that is reminiscent of Scream that makes for a killer good time. While it’s simple in terms of plot, Wolfhard and Bryk have written a story that captures all the hallmarks of the slasher genre with a wit, brutality and humour that deliver some great moments throughout the film that are nostalgic of 80s horror. At the same time, modern societal commentary and norms are mixed in with the 80s nostalgia, creating a slasher film that respects the sub genre’s history while creating something for today’s times. The kills, while restricted at times by the smaller budget of the film, are good, with the kill sequences in the film’s final act benefiting from some great fight choreography. It’s not the greatest slasher film you’ve seen, but Wolfhard and Bryk’s talent behind the camera makes it one enjoyable time while showing great promise for their future as writers and directors, whether it be something entirely new from them or a sequel to Hell of a Summer.
What makes Hell of a Summer a truly fun film, and one best experienced with a sold out crowd of horror fans, is the great ensemble cast of the film. From the second of the film starts, you fully believe that all the actors are old friends reuniting at this summer camp. There is a bubbly and familial energy between them that brings the film to life, clearly a benefit of the cast living together in Ontario while shooting the film. The comedic quips between them are wonderful, capturing that youthful banter that friends would have. Easily the standouts are Bryk as Bobby, who delivers some of the funniest moments of the entire film, and Matthew Finlan as Ezra whose sass and personality created one of the most memorable camp staffers.
From a technical point of view, the film utilizes its smaller budget to its advantage. The real summer camp used as the filming location is effective, it has a remote feeling to it and it looks like it is right out of the 80s. While very dark and not much external lighting is used for the majority of the film, the natural darkness makes the summer camp feel very eerie, keeping the audience on edge as the masked killer could be hiding anywhere on screen. The lighting in the final act showdown between Bobby and the killer is great, helping to elevate the cinematic feeling of the entire sequence with the glow of the fire. And the practical effects used to bring the kills to life are very good, creating some shocking and brutal moments that the genre calls for.
Delivering a truly fun and killer time, injecting new life into the summer camp slasher sub genre, Finn Wolfhard and Billy Bryk have a great film on their hands. Thanks to a brilliant dynamic with the entire cast that brings this clever and fun slasher film to life, Hell of a Summer is not only a solid horror film, but a wicked feature film writing and directing debut from Finn Wolfhard and Billy Bryk that showcases their promising career behind the camera.