If you ask either of my ex-wives, there are a great many things that I don’t know anything about. However, I do know something about cheerleaders. Now before you start with the knowing winks or high-fives, let me clarify: my older sister was a cheerleader. That made me the dorky little brother that got dragged along to games or was otherwise jammed into a car with a bunch of girls wearing really short skirts. It wasn’t all bad.
My innocent personal perspective notwithstanding, cheerleaders are an evolving American archetype. At one time, they were wholesome high school paragons, and they are now mostly portrayed as packs of snobby, overly-sexual bitches. This latter imagining has made them perfect fodder for horror films like “Spirit Camp”.
Ordinarily, when someone describes a film as being an “old-school horror,” I tend to think it means someone is engaging in some sloppy filmmaking. Bucking that trend, Kerry Beyer’s directorial debut recaptures the feel of some of the better cherished 80’s slasher flicks. It opens up at beautiful, secluded Camp Lumis cheer camp where the naughty girl cheerleaders and the decidedly less than heterosexual boy cheerleaders gather around the campfire. When a couple wanders off into the woods for a star-cross’d rendezvous, it leads, of course, to both of their untimely demises. Leap forward two years and another group of girls is heading out to the infamous location. In this group, we find Rachel (Julin), the alpha female, Missy (Megan Moser), who was born to cheer, Amber (Katy Rowe), who’s away from her boyfriend for the first time, Blair (Alyssia Dujmovich), the pleasantly plump one and Nikki (Roxy Vandiver), fresh out of juvenile hall. While overseen by the stern hand of their hardcore cheer instructor (Amy Morris), the girls soon find themselves hunted by a mysterious killer.
“Spirit Camp”, right from the start, had its tongue planted firmly in its cheek and it made for a fun vibe and a fairly entertaining movie. It’s not a film that’s trying to carry on a philosophical discussion or portray some great drama unfolding – it’s just a movie about a bunch of hot girls in really short skirts being bitchy or indulging their hormones and getting killed by sharp pointy objects. While that might not sound like it aspires to much, an entertaining horror movie is more than just blood and boobs. To that end, Beyer’s does a good job of creating that “old school” atmosphere. There are plenty of shadows and creepy moments and shots that evoked that vintage 80’s feel. The pacing, while not perfect, is serviceable. I felt the number of red herrings throughout weighed the film down a bit. On earlier viewings of the film, I also thought it dragged towards the end of the second act. Later viewings seemed to flow better.
Beyer also did well with his casting. The quartet of Julin, Moser, Rowe and Vandiver (Dujmovich disappears fairly early on) work well together and, as additionally necessary for a movie of this type, are attractive. Amy Morris is also excellent and appropriately over the top as the cheerleading lifer, Lindsay. Character actors like Jon Paul Burkhart and Brandon Smith help round out the capable cast.
“Spirit Camp” is a fun entry into the slasher genre. It doesn’t help us understand relationships between people of different backgrounds any better or how we can all just get along. It’s just one of those movies to watch when you want something fun and entertaining.
That’s good to know.