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Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers

Sleepaway Camp Watch

/ Remi
Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers  cover

Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers is technically a sequel. It is set a few years after its predecessor, and it follows its protagonist, Angela. That is the extent of the connections, and those familiar with Sleepaway Camp’s twist ending will already see flaws in the premise.

This time around, Angela is portrayed by Pamela Springsteen (who, incidentally, is Bruce Springsteen’s sister), and let it be said: she puts in one hell of a comedic performance that fits the tone of the movie perfectly. Yes, in another leap away from the original, Unhappy Campers is a slasher-comedy, featuring Angela as a camp counselor. I’m not sure what the fans of the original could have been thinking when they left the theater in 1988.

Unhappy Campers has little in the way of a plot, and what is there serves as an excuse for Angela to be an overly giddy killer. Anyone who does anything to make her summer anything but wholesome, family fun, are taken out without hesitation. By the end of the movie, that’s for all intents and purposes the whole camp.

It would be easy to categorize Unhappy Campers as a parody, but that really isn’t the case. This film plays it straight as far as being a cheesy, over-the-top slasher-comedy. It never mocks Sleepaway Camp in any significant way. The murders are ridiculous, even mimicking movies like Friday the 13th to a T. It’s downright impressive how straight Unhappy Campers plays those scenes.

The almost sole reason any of this works is Springsteen. She plays Angela with a sincerity that elevates even the dumbest of scene – and there are many of them – to a snort. Rarely have I seen a character feel so entitled to take out people whose actions she disapproves of. She might be the antagonist, but she is more likable than any other on-screen character.

I don’t know if there is much more to say about Unhappy Campers. It doesn’t have a lot of substance, and it is at its heart a dumb movie. It would be a lie to call it a good film. Yet, I can’t help but recommend it to anyone who likes a funny slasher. Springsteen is that good in it, and it’s too bad she has appeared in preciously few other movies.

One she did star in was Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland, which was filmed back-to-back with Unhappy Campers. More about that soon.

The Trailer

True Fiction

Psychological Thriller

/ Remi
True Fiction cover

It seemed like a good idea. Avery (Sara Garcia), an aspiring writer, gets the chance to work for her favorite author, reclusive Caleb Conrad (John Cassini). Presented as an assistant position, Avery soon learns she actually is part of a psychological experiment set to serve as inspiration for Conrad’s next novel. A simple setup in a simple setting. Two characters in a locked cabin with tension brewing – it’s what manic thrillers are made of.

Small questions start popping up as the story progresses: Conrad, a Stephen King style author, has never been seen publicly, so how can Avery know he is who he claims he is? She seemingly has a troubled past, something Conrad knows unusually lot about. Is all of this Avery’s paranoia, or is she part of a larger study?

Either nothing is as it seems, or everything is. True Fiction’s cat-and-mouse game is as much between the dominating author and his unraveling assistant, as it is between our perception of what is real and what is not. The premise is intriguing. How well it is executed is more of a mixed bag.

It starts off slowly, almost haltingly so. The first thirty minutes focus on Avery’s mundane life and her initial awkward interactions with Conrad. It is something we’ve often seen in this sub-genre, and it feels predictable. As we move into the second act, and the experiment begins, things pick up. Avery’s paranoia – if that is what it is – starts taking over, and she may or may not be seeing and hearing other people in the house. She strongly suspects she is filmed in her bedroom, and with all doors locked, there is no way for her to get out of the cabin.

It’s simple, but it works, in no small part due to Garcia and Cassini’s performances. The two are the only on-screen characters for most of the film, and they both make the most of it. Conrad’s real motives (outside of finding inspiration for a new book) are as unclear as Avery’s mental state. If what is going on is malicious or not remains a question mark until the end.

This could have been a great thriller had the first act moved faster. Get past it, and the next two acts have the tensity this type of movie benefits from. True Fiction is a very good movie, maybe even surprisingly so.

The Trailer

Dollhouse

Doll Mockumentary

/ Remi
Dollhouse cover

Or as its full title goes: Dollhouse: The Eradication of Female Subjectivity from American Popular Culture.

So, here is a movie that is… Well, it is something, alright. It might be one of the more bizarre movies I’ve watched over the last year, and I’ve watched a lot of them.

Dollhouse is a puppet movie well within the sub-genres of feminism and mockumentaries, a highly agreeable combination. Dress a serious subject up in satire, and you have yourself an effective way to convey the message.

We follow a Behind the Music style documentary covering Junie Spoons’ life story. A tween idol, she goes through what many young females in her position have experienced. From a 24-hour marriage to sex tapes; paparazzi to a shaved head; bank heist to murder. Sure, it might go a bit over the top, but it is a satire after all.

The striking thing about the narrative is that it is never told by Spoons or even shown from her perspective. Telling the story through dolls is, if a bit on the nose, suiting in the sense that the artist is portrayed as a toy herself, one who repeatedly is taken advantage of.

As for the dolls, they are well puppeteered, and after a while, it is easy to forget that you’re not watching actual humans. The quality (and budget) is not up there with Team America, but it is impressive what this small movie has managed to do with what it’s got. The five-actor voice-over cast does a serviceable job, too.

There are things to like, then, but packing it all into the seventy-seven minute runtime makes for an exhausting watch. The message gets muddled in an excess of crude humor, and the result is neither fully entertaining nor erudite. In many ways, Dollhouse could have benefited from being in a shorter Robot Chicken-type format.

It’s not a home-run, Dollhouse, but there’s more than a glimmer of hope that writer/director/star Nicole Brending can move on to bigger and better things. Her next film, The Artist’s Wife (starring the great Lena Olin and Bruce Dern), is already creating some buzz.

Give Dollhouse a watch if the subject matter is your thing or if puppeteering fascinates you. Otherwise, the movie might be a bit much of an onslaught.

The movie will be available for streaming tomorrow, August 11th. This review was based on a provided screener.

The Trailer

The Rental

Paranoia Thriller

/ Remi
The Rental cover

Dave Franco, already an established actor in movies like The Disaster Artist, puts on his Hitchcock hat in a directorial debut that can only be described as impressive.

We follow Mina (Sheila Vand) and Michelle (Alison Brie), who with, their partners, Josh (Jeremy Allen White) and Charlie (Dan Stevens), have rented an ocean-front house for the weekend. Upon arrival, things feel off. The host, Taylor (Toby Huss), displays more than a tinge of racist disposition against Mina, and the guests soon find hidden cameras in the showers. Why don’t they report the peeping to the police?

You can find that answer in the first two acts of the ninety-minute film. This hour is primarily dedicated to the characters’ past and the state of their relationships. Charlie has a pattern of cheating, something Josh, with his crushing lack of self-confidence, reveals to Michelle. Is Charlie’s playful banter with Mina just a bit too familiar? Questions are asked, and after a few too many exposition dumps, it feels like The Rental veers too far into shoe-gazing, indie-film territory. That does somewhat unexpectedly pay off during a tense third act, and The Rental might benefit from a second viewing to fully appreciate each piece of the puzzle.

Franco gets a lot of things right in his debut, fronted by a seasoned cast. Stevens — recently seen in the criminally underrated Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga — brings an adequately balanced combination of charm and sleaziness. He’s not a likable protagonist, but he falls into a suitable Hitchcockian performance as things spiral out of control. The same goes for Brie, who, as the only likable character of the group (dog aside), starts unraveling when stories from Charlie’s past is revealed, and the seriousness of their situation sets in.

And Toby Huss? Nobody can up the creep factor as he can. He seems downright gleeful being allowed to dive headfirst into his role. Franco shows no qualms of letting his cast loose.

Visually, The Rental is stylish, and director of photography Christian Sprenger uses the mist and ocean to create an ominous atmosphere. The audience is as much of a voyeur as the Peeping Tom is in paranoia-framed scenes.

It all cumulates in an ending that puts the previous ninety minutes into a new light, without wrapping the story up in a neat package. Franco and co-writer Joe Swanberg have put a compelling little story down on paper, giving even the more cliched elements a suitable panache.

Despite a slightly overlong second act, I can’t find many faults with The Rental. It is well executed from top to bottom and features an intriguing story with an interesting gallery of characters — even the end-credits play into the mix.

Coming soon!

Dave Franco is set to star in a Vanilla Ice biopic. I mean, what can go wrong?

The Trailer