There have been no shortage of camp slashers over the past 40 years. Even films that aren’t called Friday the 13th have tapped into the zeitgeist and delivered horror in a setting that is supposed to be all about fun. From Sleepaway Camp to The Burning to You Might Be the Killer, if there is one thing that we know as horror nerds, it’s that bad things happen at camp, and you should steer clear. 

This is most definitely the case with Thomas Walton’s new camp-based slasher Camp Pleasant Lake. It’s a film that seems to try to reinvent the camp slasher film, but doesn’t really succeed in filling it with life. It tries to do several things, in fact, and doesn’t really succeed in any of them.

But let’s start at the beginning. The VERY beginning. 20 years ago, in the midst of their parents’ divorce, Echo (Lacey Burdine) and her younger brother Jasper (William Delesk) are dropped off at Camp Pleasant for a special Halloween weekend. Immediately, Echo is bullied by the other kids. They smash her Halloween mask and call her a freak. Echo is so distraught that she runs crying into the woods, where she is approached by a strange man, and is never seen again. That same day, Echo’s parents were slaughtered by a local group of sadists and Jasper hasn’t been seen since the tragedy unfolded. The violent crime remains unsolved.

Today, the camp has been bought by Rick (Michael Pare) and Darlene Rutherford (Maritza Brikisak), who have launched a one of a kind horror attraction. For a mere $10k, you can spend the weekend at what is now called Camp Echo Lake, or “Camp of Terror.” You will learn all of the gorey details about the disappearance of Echo and the murder of her parents, and will be treated to the horror show of watching the camp counselors be “murdered” over the course of the weekend. They have even hired a special effects wizard to make the kills look as gnarly as possible.

The camp counselors, BTW, are all somehow the asshole kids who bullied Echo 20 years ago and are not only still around, but decided it would be fun to get jobs as scare actors on the very ground where she spent her last day before disappearing.

As the horror fiends gather for what promises to be a blood-soaked weekend, they get more than they planned for, when the counselors wind up getting killed off one by one, but for real. The planned horrorfest goes totally sideways when a masked killer appears and begins slicing their way through the unsuspecting group.

This winds up being one of the more confusing aspects of the film. We see the guests constantly complaining that the counselors and staff are being killed out of sight. No theatrics, no gore, nothing interesting. They just learn after the fact that “Chad” or whoever got taken out by the ghost of Echo, and won’t be seen for the duration of the weekend. If I had paid $10k, I’d be pissed too. This sounds like the most boring weekend ever. 

But the guests keep complaining and whining and revolting against the program. They want blood. They paid for carnage! They want to see the violence! Violence is what they get when the mysterious masked killer periodically appears in full daylight and lays waste to campers and counselors alike, and the crowd looks on and cheers because they believe it to be staged for their enjoyment.

It feels as though Walton is going for a ham-fisted takedown of violence in pop culture and the audience’s need to fixate not on horror fiction, but on the horrific tragedies of real life. And how people like the Rutherfords get disgustingly rich by tap dancing on the soil of these sad events. 

But the scene is so tonally confused that you don’t really get any sense of meaning from it at all. As the innocent victims are being slaughtered, the crowd is cheering and is so tone-deaf and out of touch that the scene plays as funny instead of as horrifying. It lives somewhere between a morality play and a farce, and doesn’t really lean very strongly in either direction. It just falls flat. Which is a bummer because there really could have been something interesting here. An examination of how popular culture deals with violence (real and fake) is always an interesting well to dip into, but you have to have something to say. This film just doesn’t.

The cast does little to prop the story back up. There is a lot of overacting, a lot of flat line-delivery and it’s just not enough to make any sort of an impact on the viewer. The stand outs are Jonathan Lipnicki and Bonnie Aarons because they get to give the biggest performances, which is fun in its own right, but those performances aren’t enough to give the story the heartbeat that it so desperately needs.The plot is well-worn and nothing particularly surprising happens

Overall, Camp Pleasant Lake could have been a better experience if the script had gone through another round of polish to really decide what it needed to be. As it happens, it is tonally inconsistent and not really interesting enough to grab the audience and keep us engaged. This might be a summer camp experience that you just want to skip.

Movie Score: 1.5/5