Finn Wolfhard and Billy Bryk’s Hell of a Summer is an affectionate spoof of eighties slasher flicks, but it’s ultimately pretty mild.
PLOT: A group of summer camp counsellors are picked off one by one during an orientation weekend.
REVIEW: Hell of a Summer marks the directorial debut of actors Finn Wolfhard and Billy Bryk. You can tell both guys, who also wrote and co-star, have a genuine affection for horror staples like Sleepaway Camp (which we just featured on 80s Horror Memories) and Friday the 13th and summer camp comedies like Wet Hot American Summer. It’s a mostly painless 88-minute romp that doesn’t do anything to reinvent the genre or even function as a particularly good horror movie or comedy. Still, it goes down easily enough to play well to Wolfhard’s (many) fans.
It’s commendable that the two guys, Wolfhard and Bryk, don’t make themselves the movie’s focus, with them just two young ensemble members. Instead, the leads are Fred Hechinger and Knock at the Cabin’s Abby Quinn, who play two of the older counselors. Everyone, naturally, starts to suspect once the bodies start piling up. This is especially true of Hechinger’s Jason, who’s given up a real summer job to return to camp as a 24-year-old counselor, even though his former colleagues (and campers) barely remember him. Hechinger could have been insufferable, but he makes the character likable, and it’s hard not to have empathy, especially when, after being dropped off by his mom, he breathes the air in and whispers under his breath, “home.” It’s a nice little touch that keeps him from becoming a cartoon.
Other cast members aren’t so lucky, with everyone playing to type. There’s there good looking macho guy (Reservation Dogs star D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai) and the sexy wannabe influencer girl (Pardis Saremi), plus the vegan, the goth girl, the dream girl (Krista Nazaire) and the two types Wolfhard and Bryk play, the horny guy and his wannabe stud friend. If you’ve seen any of the summer camp horror movies being referenced, you’ll know where it’s going right off the bat.
Given the type of movie it is, one can forgive how thinly written some of the characters are, but I think Wolfhard and Bryk could have been more creative with their kills, especially given how ruthless they are at picking off their cast. Most of the stabbings are tame, except for one inspired head wound near the end. The kitschy, retro vibe also seems too affected, with the kids still watching VHS tapes despite it being 2023. I also had a hard time believing a bunch of teenagers would willingly give up their cell phones, which explains why they’re so vulnerable in the woods. That said, I like some of the more creative needle drops, and it’s hard to entirely dislike a movie that starts with Badfinger’s “Day After Day”.
Summer camp horror has been done so much that it’s become a genre unto itself. You really need to be great to stand out these days. I’m not sure Hell of a Summer is good enough to please hardcore horror fans, although it’s breezy enough that I have no doubt it’ll pick up a distributor. It seems like a good bet for Netflix. It will probably play very well for younger viewers. It’s a decent debut for Wolfhard and Bryk, who have a love for the genre, and while I didn’t love this movie, I’ll be eager to see what they do next.