Sunday, April 6, 2014

Movie Review - "The Campground"

There are times when over-the-top effects and splatter-filled, body-parts-flying everywhere, holy-shit-I-didn’t-even-know-that-was-in-the-human-body kills are what you want in a horror movie.  However, with all of the gore fests that are emerging now, it makes you miss the basic things that a movie should have, like plot and good characters.  Sometimes, simple is what you desire.  Sometimes, simple is more effective.  Roman Jossart’s The Campground understands this premise and uses it to deliver a great horror film.

“In 1980 a mother took her son to get a present on his 10th birthday. They went to an old abandoned Campground: Little Farm on the River. She took him to an old camper and asked him to step inside, once he did she reached out and grabbed a screwdriver sitting on the counter and began stabbing him over and over again. Now 30 years later a group of friends decide to go down to the campground to celebrate a birthday party, but the mood soon changes when people start turning up dead. Will the teens be able to check out or stay at camp permanently?”

From the opening scene, the stage is set for a chilling and effective movie.  A basic, yet haunting movie score sets the tone and atmosphere for this slasher right from the start.  The location choices really lend a feeling of isolation needed for the movie to work.  We see from the beginning that the deaths are going to be simple, yet absolutely brutal.  Make no mistake, the kills may not be very inventive, but they will make you cringe.  Writers Jossart and Brandon Prewitt seems to have embraced the idea that there is no way to kill a person that has not been seen time and time again, so instead, he goes for attacks that will make you feel sympathy pains.  That basic intensity is not the only thing which writer Brandon Prewitt and writer/director Roman Jossart seems to grasp.

Ever since Scream in 1996, characters, who most of the time are supposed to be teenagers, seem to be required to wow us with snappy dialogue that makes each and every one of them sound like they have a master’s degree in psychology.  Witty comebacks and snappy one-liners flow like manna from heaven out of the mouths of attractive youth.  Jossart and Prewitt, on the other hand, embrace the background that his characters would be likely to actually have and gives us believable and natural dialogue.  Perhaps two of my favorite lines from the movie show that Jossart and Prewitt can both make us laugh and chill us with words.  Early in the film, two friends are giving each other a hard time in a store.  We could easily imagine ourselves having a similar conversation with our closest friends.  As a closing line, Brandon tells his friend “the chips?  They’re in aisle three by the tampons.”  This is nothing ground shaking or worthy of a standup comic, it is just two friends screwing around with each other, yet the delivery is funny.  Later in the movie, once the protagonists have run into a local with knowledge of the killer, the local informs them “you didn’t get away, he just gave you a head start.”  The line is delivered very non-dramatically and fits well with the mood at that point of the movie.  It is just one example of the solid and believable performances delivered by the cast.

Let’s be clear, horror movies should not be aiming to win their cast academy awards.  Save that for the drama and the comedies.  Good acting in horror movies is as simple as staying in the right mood at the right moment, if you die, doing it believably, and making us accept that the bad decisions you make that will ultimately lead to your death are a natural extension of who your character really is.  Every actor in The Campground delivers on this premise.  My favorite character was Brandon.  Every group of friends had one of these people growing up (if you are saying to yourself “no, my friends didn’t have someone like this,” then it was probably you).  This person was cracking jokes at all the wrong times, displaying a major case of ADHD when everyone else was trying to concentrate on an issue, and generally always doing the wrong thing at the worst possible moment.  Roman Jossart not only co-wrote this character to perfection, but played him just as well.  The shift in the group member’s moods from carelessly having fun, to sadness at the news of a friends “suicide,” to fear and anger is played out amazingly.  You have no problem believing that these are real people in a really bad situation.  I think the only time I didn’t believe that anyone could make THAT stupid of a decision was when some of the characters take refuge in a car to protect themselves from the killer, yet leave the windows down.  Otherwise, all of the bad ideas seem to fit the characters and they even question each other’s mistakes and second guess decisions.  The flashback of Charlie’s death is especially haunting if you focus on the blank look of the mother after she has killed her son, walking from the trailer soaked in blood.  Essentially, none of the actors overdid or underdid their role and kept you in the reality of the movie.

In my opinion, it is the simple things that can make or break an independent movie.  Jossart and Prewitt avoid one of the big mistakes that many independent film makers fall into, which is overreaching the limits of what they have to work with.  The reported budget for The Campground was $3,000.  By keeping his death scenes simple and his effects minimalistic, but believable, Jossart and Prewitt really made the most of that budget to provide a good film.  Their focus was obviously on the minor things that can make or break a movie.  They let the atmosphere do the work.  Perhaps one of the most chilling scenes of the movie is when one of the girls answers a phone left in the bathroom for her and the killer recites a twisted nursery rhyme in a raspy voice.  One of the biggest things that stood out to me was the lighting.  A lot of independent films tend to suffer from poor lighting that ruins the mood of a movie as they try to make the best of what they have available to them.  Jossart handles this very well, keeping the film dark enough to maintain the atmosphere while lighting it enough to keep you from having to struggle to see what is going on.

As you can see, my critiques on this film are minimal.  Sure, you could tear this movie apart piece by piece if you wanted to, but to do so would be to miss the gem that Jossart and Prewitt have created with so little with which to work.  The only flaws I would see worthy of pointing out where two basic things, that, hopefully, they can correct in the future to make an even better production then the highly entertaining movie he has already given us.  My first issue was a basic production complaint.  There are a couple of points during the campfire scenes where the ambient noises seem to loud, making the dialogue difficult to hear.  I’m not sure if this is something Jossart could give more focus during post-production on future projects.  My only complaint as far as the story and its execution on screen go is Charlie’s age.  This is the same issue I have always taken with Friday the 13th.  Why, if the killer died as a child, are they now a full-grown man?  I understand from a horror film perspective that a large man makes a better killer then a small boy, but I don’t think that is something that needs to keep occurring.  Along with that is the actor who played the “child” Charlie.  A couple of times we are told that Charlie was killed when he was ten-years-old.  I understand the choice for this as it is more horrifying that a mother would kill her small child with no clear motivation then it would be for an older teenager to die.  However, the actor who plays “10-year-old” Charlie is clearly much older.  I feel like it would have been better if Jossart had found a child to play the role or re-written it so Charlie’s age matched the actor’s a little more closely.

Minor gripes aside, this was a fantastic movie.  It had a strong story, great acting, effective kill scenes, and (at under 60 minutes long) leaves you wanting more without just filling the time with unnecessary and distracting story elements.  If you want to see what effective and entertaining independent horror looks like, you need look no further than Roman Jossart’s The Campground.

So, what’s the Rage score?  Here it is:

Acting – 4.5/5

 Story - 4/5

 Effects - 4/5

 Camera Work/Production Skill - 4/5

 Overall Entertainment Value - 4/5


 Total Score – 4.1/5 – What are you waiting for?  Go check out this solid and entertaining horror movie!

So where can you get The Campground, you ask?  Check out these options:

Buy it director from the film makers at


Even better, you can support Roman Jossart and Brandon Prewitt’s latest project and pick up a copy of The Campground at the same time on Indiegogo:  Best of all with The Woods Within project is that Jossart and Prewitt have ensured fans that the movie will be made no matter how much of their goal they achieve.  The more support they are able to get, the better film they will be able to produce.  So let’s help them make an even better film then the first and show our support for Independent Horror!

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