Toronto 2023 Review: HELL OF A SUMMER Lacks the Necessary Bite

Editor, Canada; Montréal, Canada (@bonnequin)
Toronto 2023 Review: HELL OF A SUMMER Lacks the Necessary Bite

Long a favoured location for slasher films, summer camp provides plenty of proverbial fodder for a serial killer's cannon: plenty of nubile, horny, often unaware bodies in an isolated place, waiting to be, well, slashed by whatever preferred method. It provides a familiar trope onto which a filmmaker can make that individual mark to have their film stand out.

Sadly, that mark is missing from Hell of a Summer. Granted, this is the debut film from writers/director Billy Bryk (When You Finish Saving the World) and Finn Wolfhard (Stranger Things). And they have plenty of inspiration at their fingertips in the horror and comedy tones they're aiming for, from Friday the 13th to Superbad. But while they are some funny moments and a few good, gruesome kills, it's mostly uninventive.

It's another summer at Camp Pineway, and the counselors are arriving a few days ahead, in theory to prepare for the campers' arrival. Chief among them is Jason (Fred Hechinger): so enamoured is Jason of the camp experience, he's giving up a valuable intership for the mere $150 a week he'll earn at Pineway. The other counselors are a mixed bunch - perhaps a little too mixed, in the sense that with a few of them, it's maybe a bit too much of a stretch to believe that they would take a low-paying, rough-playing job like this, such as diva Demi (Pardis Seremi), vegan Miley (Julia Doyle), or rich kid Chris (Wolfhard).

The opening has already set up a killer on the loose, and it's just a matter of time before the next victim is selected. There is the usual set-up of their summer 'preparation' (i.e. drinking, partying, as much as they can before the kids show up), horny Bobby (Byrk) trying him damndest to get laid, and a budding romance between Jason and the fellow counselor Claire (Abby Quin). This subplot provides at least a little bit of grounding to the tale, mostly due to the commitment of the actors.

Not that a slasher film has to have a solid ground - let's face it, we watch it mostly for the kills, the killer, and to guess who will survive. But it's at least something a little unique to this story: what do you do when your joy comes from something that takes up a fraction of your time, for which you might be considered too old, when everyone around you expects you to move up in the world? His obsession with the camp, while sold on an emotional level from Hechinger, fails to have sufficient impact when we're not seeing what makes this camp so great, especially when surrounded by people who just don't seem like they would be there, either as camper or counselor.


But again, we're here for the kills, and there are some good ones - one person getting a well-placed musical instrument crammed in a body orafice, another whose head apparently will be the next meal. Though the aim is as much laughter as screams, and in this regard, Byrk and Wolfhard known their generation Z, mostly in smaller moments and iconography, specifically the desire for social media attention. Matthew Finlan and Julie Lalonde especially have fun poking at their character stereotypes of the queer thespian and flighty witch, respectively. But even that, again, doesn't have the intensity or power that it should. Even in a slasher, the kills needs to mean something, to feel like a bit of a gut punch, to put a little fear in the audience, to think that they might have been that victim. And while they are some good kills, it's not quite imaginative or varied enough to elevate that killer to the status of admiration that is a staple of the subgenre.

Byrk and Wolfhard clearly have a love for both horror and comedy, and have shown promise with with their earlier short film work. I wish they had taken more time with Hell of a Summer to put a more particular stamp on it, rather than simply rehashing what's been done before.

Hell of a Summer

  • Billy Bryk
  • Finn Wolfhard
  • Billy Bryk
  • Finn Wolfhard
  • Fred Hechinger
  • Abby Quinn
  • Pardis Saremi
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Billy BrykFinn WolfhardFred HechingerAbby QuinnPardis SaremiComedyHorror

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