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Bunk House of Horror: A TIFF Review of ‘Hell of a Summer’

September 12, 2023Ben MK

Summer camp is an annual tradition for millions of children around the world. But within the realm of film, there's a much more sinister association linked to the popular seasonal program. An often-used backdrop for slasher movies such as Friday the 13th and its innumerable derivatives, summer camp has also served as the setting for many a bloody bludgeoning and brutal beheading. And in the feature directorial debut from writer-directors Billy Bryk and Finn Wolfhard, Hell of a Summer, the pair are bringing back that gory tradition, in this hilariously horrifying send-up of the slasher genre.

The time has come for Camp Pineway, to open for another year, and before the parents drop their kids off for a few weeks of fun-filled activities, the new batch of camp counsellors have arrived for their annual orientation. A diverse bunch of Gen Z-ers that includes an overly dramatic theatre enthusiast, a goth girl who thinks she's clairvoyant, a vegan, and a handful of horny teenagers, to name a few, they're led by 24-year-old man-child Jason (Fred Hechinger), a former Pineway camper who's just trying to extend what he considers the best summers of his life. However, when the counsellors start dropping like flies at the hands of a homicidal maniac in a devil mask, it quickly becomes clear that this will be a summer unlike anything Pineway has ever seen. As their numbers dwindle and they struggle to stay alive, these survivors must do everything they can to try and outrun and outsmart their would-be murderer. But can they unmask this mysterious killer before it's too late?

An uproarious ensemble comedy that pokes fun at everything from gender stereotypes to people with nut allergies, while also upending its share of slasher horror clichés, the result is to Friday the 13th as Wet Hot American Summer was to films like Meatballs. Still, you don't have to be a fan of the genre to enjoy the hell out of Hell of a Summer. A modern-day cult classic for the TikTok generation, it's a movie that's both nostalgic and of the moment. Just remember to close your eyes if you're squeamish — because, oh yes, there will be blood.

Hell of a Summer screens under the Midnight Madness and TIFF Next Wave Selects programmes at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival. Its runtime is 1 hr. 28 min.

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