I have a perfect “early retirement” scheme! Hear me out—find a summer camp, take out some life insurance policies on the counselors, and sit back and watch the cash roll in! I mean, c’mon, they all have: a disgruntled former employee, a grieving parent, a bullied tween all grown up, or, in the sage words of the dearly departed Crazy Ralph, it could simply have a “death curse.” Either way, these kids will start dying eventually…then, white sand beaches and pina coladas here I come!!
Final Summer Synopsis
In the aftermath of a tragedy at a summer camp, a group of camp counselors find themselves fighting for their lives against a masked killer.
Have a look at the trailer!
In the wake of Madman. The Burning. Sleepaway Camp, the granddaddy, Friday the 13th, and the endless rip-offs, is it even possible to make a “masked killer at a summer camp” film, on a micro-budget no less, and have it work? The short answer is “yes” and a great example of how to do it is writer/producer/director John Isberg’s Final Summer.
Yes, dear readers, the path to this particular camp is well traveled (did you read that synopsis). 5 years after a tragedy at Camp Silverlake, owner Linnea Krug (Joi Hoffsummer; Welcome To Tolono, and dig that name!) lets her dedicated employees know that this is the end of the line. The assembled counselors are to wrap things up, and head home, leaving their futures in the camp industry (is that a thing?) in limbo.
Lexi (Jenna Kohn; Two Ships In The Night), an obviously troubled girl, is trying to reconcile her guilt over her role in the tragedy, but complicating matters is Peter (Wyatt Taber; Love & Death) who has an unrequited crush on Lexi, and is trying to get up the courage to finally tell her, with the encouragement of his fellow counselors. Meanwhile, a hulking masked killer, who may, or may not be the former groundskeeper, or the grieving grandpa of a missing kid (Robert Gerard Anderson), is stalking and killing the isolated group.
Trying to keep such a familiar premise fresh is a pretty daunting task, but Final Summer succeeds in embracing that familiarity and framing it with some really accomplished writing and setups. A Scream-like self-awareness (with plenty of nods & references to the classics without being too hokey) permeates the film, a realistic approach to dialogue lends a lot of authenticity, and a really talented ensemble cast, in roles that avoids the typical slasher flick stereotypes, all combine to make Final Summer a fun watch despite the lack of the usual gore shots and nudity that go part and parcel with the 80’s films that Final Summer homages so well.
In addition to standout performances from Kohn and Taber, Jace Jamison (Tough Nut) as the Jesus-looking Dougie, Farbota Lynn (First(ish) Date) as Ronnie, and Rico Whitehead as Moose also turn in impressive work. And when Lexi is in peril, her bestie Georgia (Charlee Amacher; Chicago P.D.) pops up to help move the plot along. A good cast and crew can make you overlook a lot of things. Virtually everyone can act in this movie, it really adds depth to the characters, and the viewer never misses the “blond slut,” the “moody goth,” the “alpha jock,” or the “comic relief stoner”.
The nuts and bolts, of what Isberg has admitted in interviews, was a troubled production, elevate Final Summer as well. A fantastic camp location, coupled with a great score, with a tremendous amount of atmosphere, and mood via the excellent lighting, camera work, and editing (also Isberg) makes any onscreen gore or violence unnecessary as you are literally immersed in the film. The dark, serious tone of the script is another facet of the rough diamond that is Final Summer that works exceptionally well, there are never any winks or nods to the viewer that take you out of the experience. In truth, other than a perfect portrait of Tom Atkins, and genre vet Thom Matthews (as Sheriff Parmer) popping up, Final Summer is devoid of humor, black or otherwise.
Final Summer ultimately works where so many other films fail because it embraces some of the tropes of the “summer camp killer” sub-genre, and makes up for the ones it doesn’t with superior writing, acting, direction, and yes, film-making. A dark, moody ride that delivers some genuine scares, and chills, and while very, very familiar, never once comes off as a rip-off. Easily among the best, and most accomplished, indie features I’ve seen in the last decade or so. See it.
John Isberg’s Final Summer is available now on Amazon and other streaming platforms.