Navigating being a teenager while making friends at summer camp is hard enough without having to survive the deadly rampage of a masked serial killer.
Hell of a Summer marks the directorial debut of Billy Bryk, as well as Finn Wolfhard’s first full-length feature directorial debut. Starring Fred Hechinger and Abby Quinn, alongside Wolfhard and Bryk, this film is Canadian-made. Throughout July 2022, the cast and crew shot this film in Northern Ontario and finished up post-production by February 2023. Hell of a Summer premiered at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, where it was later awarded second runner-up for the People’s Choice Award for Midnight Madness. The film has received a 55 percent critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
During promotional interviews, Wolfhard noted that he and Bryk took quite a bit of inspiration for this film from horror classics, including Shaun of the Dead and Friday the 13th. Additionally, Wolfhard shared with Entertainment Weekly that it was difficult to find an investor for this film as they looked down upon the young age of Wolfhard and Bryk, who were 19 and 22 at the time of production.
Hell of a Summer welcomes audiences to Camp Pineway, a beloved summer getaway for 20-something-year-old camp counsellor Jason. After his mother reluctantly drops him off for the summer, Jason sets off to find the owners and begins greeting fellow counsellors as they arrive at their cabins. The personalities within the group of young counsellors are diverse to say the least, which leads to quick quips and sarcasm throughout the day. As the evening hours draw close, the group has a difficult time gathering everyone to the bonfire. In his quest for more responsibility, Jason takes the initiative of finding the few stragglers. However, what Jason finds grants him much more responsibility than he was originally hoping for; one of the counsellors has been murdered. In a moment of shock and panic, Jason heads back to warn the rest of the counsellors and figure out how to protect themselves alone, in the middle of the woods. So, who is responsible for the tragedy and more importantly, who will be next?
I spoke to both Wolfhard and Bryk during the Hell of a Summer red carpet about their proudest moments from making this film.
“Making a whole feature film was so incredible on its own,” said Wolfhard. “The small victories of directing small scenes that we were incredibly proud of.”
“There was a sequence on one of the last days, where we had a lot of extra safety people on the set,” said Bryk. “When we finished that, I remember looking at Finn and looking around at all of the grown-up, bad*ss people that were on set, and thinking ‘we just did that’.”
Hell of a Summer is a fun watch, as long as viewers go into the film expecting more comedy than fright. This film is also very meta, as it is self-aware of its ability to poke fun at the slasher genre. In this sense, the film compares to the 1996 classic, Scream. While Wolfhard and Bryk’s film has a heavier focus on teenage audiences, both of these movies make a central point of creating jokes around slasher film clichés and having their killer leave their victims in gruesome positions for other characters to discover. Hell of a Summer is also very similar to the 1980 horror film, Friday the 13th. This comparison is more obvious, with both films taking place at a secluded summer camp where teenage counsellors have been left alone to fend for themselves.
As a standalone film, Hell of a Summer lacks the necessary amount of thrills and scares that slasher movies require. Many of the kills were not shown on camera, and while viewers will discover the specific reason for doing so, it simply did not feel like the correct decision for a horror film. While the TIFF audience offered laughs, many of the jokes and comedy bits felt slightly overused, to the point where the film was becoming too satirical.
This film is best viewed in a movie theatre, within an audience of slasher film lovers. Sharing laughter and joy with a packed theatre significantly elevates this movie-watching experience. Overall, these young directors, writers and actors deliver great performances that make for a fun, light-hearted watch. There are plenty of laughs to be had and it feels like a true love letter to 90’s slasher films.
Keep an eye out for an official public release date for Hell of a Summer.