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Movie review: A fun cast, ghosts and a vengeful witch make “CAMP COLD BROOK” a worthwhile visit

Friday, February 14, 2020 | Featured Post (Fourth), Review

By SHAWN MACOMBER

Starring Chad Michael Murray, Danielle Harris and Candice De Visser
Directed by Andy Palmer
Written by Alex Carl
Shout! Studios

If there’s anything we’ve collectively learned from heist flicks, it should be that the “one last job” never goes off without a hitch. There’s a real-world psychological phenomenon that helps explain this: Risk blindness. Time and again, studies have shown that potential rewards dull our ability perceive and process danger. Which is to say, often at the very moment when the absolute most is at stake, our internal system of self-preservation begins to break down.

This internal dead spot, of course, is not limited to thieves, as we quickly learn in the Joe Dante-produced creeper CAMP COLD BROOK—in limited theatrical and VOD release starting today—in which the team behind a just-cancelled basic-cable ghost-hunting show run headlong into one final Hail Mary episode—and very nearly get themselves permanently cancelled from the earthly plane by an extremely vengeful spirit they did virtually no due diligence on before confronting.

Risk blindness. Plus ghosts. It’s a deadly equation!

Jack (Chad Michael Murray) is the on-air host of HAUNT SQUAD and, having achieved a random-receptionists-swoon-in-his-presence degree of celebrity, sort of swaggers through life. A couple of minutes after we meet him, however, he’s in an office with a TV executive (Courtney Gains) who—with an EVIL GENIUS plaque proudly displayed on his shelf, no less—is telling him it’s over. Kaput. The show isn’t making its numbers. Suddenly Jack is in survival mode: How’s he going to support his doting wife and two cute-as-a-button daughters? What will his crew do? Who is the receptionist going to swoon over? In that moment of stress and uncertainty, Jack makes a fateful decision: to bullshit. About a nonexistent episode in the pipeline.

“This is the one,” he tells the boss, leaning in close enough to smell the hair pomade. “This is the one that separates all those hack shows from us. No bullshit EVP or wind machines, but actual documented proof of life after death. And it’s going to happen on someone else’s goddamn network.”

Bait taken, Jack and team secure a temporary reprieve. Alas, they still do not have, you know, a ghost. But the Internet, bless its heart, is full of rumors of hauntings. After a bit of, uh, spirited back-and-forth between his two most trusted producers (Danielle Harris and Candice De Visser) and a hilarious/cantankerous DP (Michael Eric Reid), they settle on…well, you know. And if not, refer back to the title card.

The titular isolated Oklahoma camp seems promising because in 1990, a maybe-witch drowned a whole bunch of kids there. Considering the circumstances, the odds that they’re going to stumble upon an unsettled spirit seem fair to good. Time to head out to what the DP calls “Hicksville in the sticksville.” (This isn’t the ’80s—gotta lay that no-cell-service foundation early.) Once the requisite locals-warn-our-heroes-to-turn-back sequence is out of the way, our small team casually strides into the camp, sets up its gear and then, once several quiet, bucolic, ghost-free days have passed, all head back to civilization refreshed, find new, fulfilling jobs, and occasionally think fondly about how well you can see the stars with no light pollution. The end.

Kidding! Predictably, the weird, freaky stuff starts going down almost immediately, and before you can say, “Holy moly—ghosts are real!” our semi-intrepid gang is in a full-fledged interdimensional battle with the aforementioned child-drowning witch, who has been stewing in her grievances for 30 years. Oh, and you know they’ve got to throw a deep, dark secret into the mix—something that really ties the room together.

Obviously, there is some serious trope-age at play here. The good news is that CAMP COLD BROOK is a cut above when it comes to working those familiar elements for all they’re worth. Let’s face it: The film easily could’ve become 75 percent about the novelty of its intermingled cast—“Hey, look, it’s the gal from the HALLOWEEN films with the guy from CHILDREN OF THE CORN and also the guy from ONE TREE HILL and HOUSE OF WAX!”—but Alex Carl’s script builds up the characters and backstory in a sophisticated way that draws the audience in and allows for true suspension of disbelief. It’s always a joy for genre devotees when Harris pops up, and she and Murray—along with the rest of the cast—deliver fun, lively performances that clearly demonstrate why they’ve continued to not only work steadily over the last couple of decades, but also continue to endear themselves to fans. Director Andy Palmer (THE FUNHOUSE MASSACRE) guides the entire enterprise with a steady hand, deftly balancing tension, humor, darkness and real scares. CAMP COLD BROOK might not boast a BIRDS OF PREY budget, but it’s got a good group that vibes well together.

Unless you’ve somehow managed to find RUE MORGUE without having ever seen a horror film—impressive, if weird!—you’ll know where all of this is going to wind up from the jump. But CAMP COLD BROOK isn’t about the destination. It’s about the journey. And that is a twisty, entertaining ride through the spookshow.