Short films feel like the natural home for the ‘found-footage’ genre. An idea that once seemed borderline revolutionary has become repetitive, cliché-filled and still unable to address stylistic quirks that detract from the viewer’s enjoyment. Nausea-inducing camera-shaking or eye-rollingly awkward conversations taking place after characters forget to turn off the camera, purely for exposition-dumps, are nowhere near as much of an issue when they aren’t called upon on countless occasions over a 90-minute runtime. Camping Fun is an example of the genre done right.
We are introduced to 4 friends – Thomas, Lauren, Jamie and David embarking on a camping trip at an abandoned family ranch. Documenting the old house, and drinking themselves silly is the plan. But upon arrival, they suspect that they may not be alone. When David goes missing, the remaining friends document their attempt to find him.
Camping Fun packs a surprising amount of ingenuity into it’s short runtime. The use of 2 cameras – and 2 perspectives of the events – is a welcome shift from the singular view we often get with found-footage movies. This coupled with a non-linear story structure gives the film an originality that stands out amongst the sea of traditional camera-horror flicks, and gives the audience a greater insight into what may be happening at the farm than a movie twice its length would otherwise accomplish.
The performances are strong, with directors Thomas Burke and David Eimer starring appropriately as the 2 filmmakers whose lens we see through. The ill-fated David is particularly unsympathetic – his disruptive presence a classic staple of horror and great contrast with the rest of the group. The stand-out performances however are those of Bonnie Sturdivant as Jamie, and Hailey Marmolejo as Lauren. It is Lauren’s ranch that the group is visiting – and her menacing shift in personality is one of our first clues that something is afoot. It is Jamie who we empathise with the most. Already struggling with an abusive boyfriend before the horror show starts, she truly feels undeserving of the peril. Primarily, the dynamic of the group is convincing, and authenticity is essential in what is billed to be ‘real’ footage.
The very best horror films are not really about demons, monsters or murder cults – but are allegorical insights into our real, deep-rooted fears as a culture. Camping Fun may feature the classic jump-scares and body-horror, but it engages with deeper societal issues underneath the surface. The rage of have-not, rural America against the liberal suburban youth can be easily inferred (plenty of references to life being different outside of the city, and Thomas mentions being a Californian in Texas). This engagement layers the horror we see on screen, and channels the occult and outlandish elements into something uncomfortably relevant for American viewers in 2020.
Camping Fun is an accomplished, short thriller that nails what a modern, found-footage horror should be. It achieves something original in a tired genre, and takes the audience on a tightly-knit and disturbing story that crescendos perfectly. The directors should be applauded for realising that less-is-more.