The Movie Waffler Screamfest LA 2022 Review - DEER CAMP ’86 | The Movie Waffler

Screamfest LA 2022 Review - DEER CAMP ’86

Screamfest LA 2022 Review - DEER CAMP ’86
A group of hunters are targeted by a vengeful spirit.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: L. Van Dyke Siboutszen

Starring: Noah LaLonde, Jay J. Bidwell, Arthur Cartwright, Josh Dominguez, Tina Manera, David Lautman, Paul Wilson

Over the past decade we've seen lots of horror movies either set in the 1980s or heavily evoking the neon visuals and synth scores of that decade. The main motivation is usually to evoke nostalgia in horror fans who came of age at that time and discovered the thrills of all the great genre franchises down their local video store. But sometimes it's just a convenient way of avoiding the storytelling obstacle of the dreaded cellphone.

Deer Camp '86 review

L. Van Dyke Siboutszen's directorial debut Deer Camp '86 is set in its titular year, but I'm baffled as to why it's a period piece. The action takes place deep in the woods of Michigan, where there's probably no cellphone coverage anyway, and there's practically nothing to mark it as taking place in the mid-80s. Its protagonists wear the sort of hunting clothes that have been fashionable for the past 80 years, and likely for budgetary reasons there are no synth pop hits on the soundtrack.

It does however evoke the sort of action-horror hybrids that became popular in the mid to late '80s, with Predator a particularly notable inspiration. Its "heroes" aren't a squad of musclebound action figures however, but rather a bunch of goofballs who like the ill-fated lads from Deliverance, have left the city for a weekend of hunting in the Michigan woods.

Deer Camp '86 review

The city boys in question are douchebags of the highest order, with only pretty boy Wes (Noah LaLonde) and Simon (Arthur Cartwright, who gets the movie's best line, "I'm going back to Detroit where it's safe!") coming close to being likeable. The former makes googly eyes at Star (Tina Manera), the pretty Native American bartender at the roadhouse where they stop off for drinks, and she seems to reciprocate. After a brawl with some stereotypical racist rednecks (Another nice line – "Aren't we over racism yet, it's 1986!") the lads head off to their hunting lodge. Wes is disappointed he didn't get to say goodbye to Star. Well, he couldn't, because unbeknownst to him she was stabbed to death by an unknown assailant in the alley behind the bar.

Courtesy of the local sheriff (Paul Wilson), we get some exposition about how every time a young Native American woman is murdered, a nearby hunting party is massacred, and the slaughter is dismissed as a bear attack. Along with our non-heroes, we quickly learn that a restless Native American spirit takes revenge on the white man whenever one such murder occurs. Our out-of-depth protagonists find themselves fighting for their lives as the tomahawk wielding terror chases them through the woods.

Deer Camp '86 review

Like so many of these films, it takes an awfully long time for the action to kick in, spending an inordinate amount of time on character building. This would be fine if the characters were in any way nuanced and interesting, but they're just a bunch of stereotypes. What is interesting is how the film is at least aware that these guys are assholes, priming us for the enjoyment of seeing them get their comeuppance. Unfortunately the movie lets us down with a series of unimaginative kills that will leave gore aficionados particularly disappointed. Once the ball gets rolling it does at least zip along at a nice pace, and it boasts one of the more striking horror antagonists of recent times in the skull-masked spirit. A little more innovation and some more nuance in its characters and this could have been an engaging throwback to the VHS era, but it's simply another attempt to cheaply mine nostalgia for that lost time.

Deer Camp '86
 played at Screamfest LA.

2022 movie reviews