Having never attended summer camp myself, everything I know about the camp experience was learned through sitcoms and films like Friday the13th and Meatballs. Through these invaluable resources, I have come to the realization that camp is not one of those things I regret missing. While there have been several films that have shown the lighter side of camp life, where goofy guys like Ernest can become heroes, the horror genre has really influenced my vision of what camp is like. The new film Solo does little to change that. In fact, it has taught me that the only thing more traumatic than being sent to camp is working as a camp counselor.
Solo tells the tale of Gillian (Annie Clark), a seventeen year-old girl who takes a job as a camp counselor at Camp Kaya. Still traumatized by a tragic event in her past, Gillian is hoping her job at the summer camp will be a good step forward in her recovery. Unbeknownst to Gillian, Camp Kaya has a policy that all new counselors must spend two days alone on a nearby isolated island. The owner, Frank (Richard Clarkin), believes that every counselor should know how to survive off the land before they can teach others to do the same thing.
As Gillian prepares for her two night stay, a few of her fellow counselors, including the peculiar Marty (Steven Love), inform her of an incident that happened on that same island several years ago. Unsure of whether or not it is truth or lore, Gillian’s paranoia is heightened when, hours into her first solo, a fisherman named Ray (The Line’s Daniel Kash) and his dog show up responding to a cry for help from someone on the island. Is there someone else on the island or are the stories of the island being haunted true? Things get even creepier when Gillian finds an old doll in the woods. What starts off as a simple two day exercise soon becomes a harrowing fight for survival.
If there is one thing to be said for director Isaac Cravit’s feature film debut it is that the film is gorgeous to look at. He brings both a beautiful and haunting atmosphere to the island. Despite being isolated on a fair size island, Cravit manages to make Gillian’s experience feel small and contained. This fits perfectly with the claustrophobic-like paranoia that the film builds.
While Cravit clearly has a strong visual eye and a way with actors, more on that in a minute, his script could use a bit of tightening up. This is not a knock against the dialogue, which is adequate, but more a comment on his choice of reveals. The whole premise, including a few key points which become significant later, is established within the first ten minutes. By giving so much away early on, the film struggles at times to maintain the chilling mystery and lore. As a result, Cravit reveals the answer to the question “what is going on island?” far too early, making the last half a little too predictable.
Although Solo’s plot is a little too convenient for my liking, I still found the film to be a rather effective thriller. Cravit gets strong performances from his cast who are heavily relied on to keep the story moving. Annie Clark, in particular, is great in the lead role. She brings the right mixture of fear and confusion needed to keep Gillian engaging, even in the times when I questioned the character’s choices. Clark’s performance, coupled with Cravit’s strong visuals, help to make Solo an effective thriller that will make you think twice before applying for a job at summer camp.