17-year-old Gillian (Annie Clark of Degrassi TNG) is overcoming a prior trauma by taking a job as a summer camp counselor. As part of her training and initiation, she is required to spend two nights alone on a remote island, which of course is purported to be haunted by the ghost of a prior camper, in a 'Solo' camp. Once there, she is plagued with paranoia and then the very real intrusion of a couple of shady characters.
There are a couple of slight twists injected into Solo, but in the end it really doesn't bring much of anything new to the table, and I'm personally a little burnt out on this setting for horror. Camps and camp counselors can still be used, but it's best when it's upended in some meaningful way, otherwise I find myself wanting to watch superior efforts like anything in the Friday the 13th series, Sleepaway Camp or its underrated sequel, or countless other entries in horror. Compounded on this is the use of yet another 'creepy doll' in kind of a shoehorned way, which is another horror trope that's been severely overused. It felt a little unnecessary to me, as did the mention of the ghostly presence on the island as anything but a red herring.
With all this said, however, Clark puts in a great performance and with the camera fixated on her most of the time, manages to convey her fear and paranoia well, which has to be a departure from her Degrassi role (unless that show has taken a dramatic left turn from when I last watched it). Daniel Cash, best known as Private Spunkmeyer from Aliens and a laundry list of other credits, also turns in a great understated, creepy performance and Richard Clarkin (who I loved in Michael Dowse's Goon) does a great job as the weirdest camp counselor you'll see all year. Stephen Love's turn as the bizarre Marty rounds out the trio of men seemingly pulling Gillian in several directions and any of them can credibly be the one antagonizing her throughout her 'solo'. Unfortunately, the resolution is a little predictable.
While Solo is a very good first effort for Cravit, there's not much here that allows me to solidly recommend it over some of the amazing horror offerings at After Dark this year, or even over some of the mainstream horrors that came out in 2013 like The Conjuring or You're Next (the latter, in particular, accomplishes much of what Cravit seemed to be aiming for but with much more success). That being said, Cravit put a large amount of skill and care into Solo and this first effort definitely makes me want to see what he comes up with next.
The 2013 Toronto After Dark Film Festival runs from October 17th to 25th. You can find ticket and lineup information at the official site here.
Photo: Degrassi's Annie Clark goes "solo" in the movie Solo. See what I did there? I used the title to make something that's barely a pun if it is one at all.
This review was written by Sachin Hingoo, a freelance writer when he is not working at an office job that is purpose-built for paying the bills while he works as a freelance writer. His writing has appeared on Mcsweeneys.net, the CBC Street Level Blog, Ohmpage.ca, and The Midnight Madness Blog for the Toronto International Film Festival. He has also been featured at Toronto lecture series Trampoline Hall (which is rumored to be excellent). His mutant power is 'feigning interest'. You can read all of his posts here.