From executive producer Drew Barrymore (Cat’s Eye) comes Happy Camp, a found footage thriller set in the actual rural logging town of the same name in California. It’s located in northern Siskiyou County on the Klamath River, home of the annual Bigfoot Jamboree festival. Bigfoot lore is rich up in those hills, making it a terrific spot to set a thriller about kids who get dragged into the woods never to be heard from again.
But what’s truly remarkable about Happy Camp is how simple it is, and I don’t mean that in a good way. It’s like Barrymore and the rest of the filmmakers just saw Blair Witch yesterday and said “Let’s do that.” They ignore the past 15 years of found footage highs and lows to present a formulaic bore that takes an interesting premise half rooted in reality and trashes it in favor of flaccid jump scares, aggressive attempts to sell itself, and some jarringly bad CGI.
If you hate found footage, stay the hell away. If you like found footage, Happy Camp is one of the reasons you’re forced to constantly defend the genre.
The film follows four friends as they visit Happy Camp in hopes of learning more about the disappearance in 1989 of a child named Dean Tanner. Dean’s brother Mike is one of the four crew members. He hasn’t been back to town since the incident 20 years ago, and watching him throughout the film you’d think he never agreed to the project. He’s constantly bitching about how he “doesn’t want to talk about it” and throwing hissy fits whenever he becomes emotional.
At one point during the first act Mike’s girlfriend Amy is asking him about his brother, and he starts crying and says “Are you really going to make me talk about this?” The fuck, dude? Did you not know what this “documentary” was about? Your brother’s vanishing is the focal point of the film! His attitude gets annoying very quickly.
I genuinely enjoyed the start of the film. Like I said, setting it in the actual Bigfoot-obsessed town of Happy Camp is a cool idea. But they take that idea and use it create a film that takes itself way too serious. Found footage has been around for a couple decades now. We know it’s not real. Nobody “found” this “footage.” At this point, there’s no reason to try to pass it as authentic – especially if it bogs down whatever thin narrative there is.
The biggest offense is the list of missing children at the end. It scrolls up before the credits as a dedication to the Happy Camp locals who have disappeared over the years. This goes on for about three minutes. The “footage” is “dedicated” to those missing kids. Good grief.
After a tediously repetitive middle act, Happy Camp tries to throw the scares in. I guess the following can be considered a spoiler, so heads up if you’re still planning on watching this crap. Yes, it turns out Bigfoots, or a gang of Bigfoots, has been abducting people from Happy Camp. They’re shown briefly on film and holy hell they look dumb. The CGI is terrible, first of all, and they jump around the woods and throw shit around like Hulk in The Avengers. They look like hairy bodybuilders. It’s easily my least favorite depiction of Bigfoot in cinema.
Is there anything good to say about Happy Camp? It’s certainly nice looking. There’s barely any shaky cam bullshit, which is pretty rare in the found footage genre nowadays. And..that’s all I got. Stay the hell away from Happy Camp when it hits VOD platforms on March 25th.
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