[Popcorn Frights] FINAL SUMMER Review – Camp Horror Returns with a Vengeance
Julia Straub says this throwback slasher hits its mark, bringing classic horror staples to life for a new generation.
Writer and director John Isberg pays homage to Friday the 13th (1980) with the throwback slasher film Final Summer. Starring Jenna Kohn, Wyatt Taber, and Charlie Bauer. Isberg’s film reimagines the slasher genre and makes for a refreshing and entertaining watch.
In the late summer of 1991, a young boy mysteriously and brutally dies on the last day of summer at Camp Silverlake, leaving everyone with many unanswered questions. The counselor in charge of the boy, Lexi (Kohn), intensely struggles with guilt, while Peter (Taber) desperately tries to ask her out before they go home. When their friend Mike (Bauer) goes missing, this rag-tag group of teenagers set out to find him. Instead, they find a terrifying masked maniac with a bloody axe. This group finds themselves fighting to survive the cold summer night in a quick turn of events.
With obvious Easter eggs from classic horror films, Final Summer displays awkward cinematography choices throughout its runtime. While subtle, the oddly blurry visuals are painstakingly uncomfortable for audiences—like watching a 3D movie without special glasses. The transitions between camera angles make the perspectives appear off. The inconsistent frames make it difficult for viewers to comprehend what is happening on screen. The pacing of its edits also sticks out like a sore thumb. However, the impressive performances offer a redeeming quality to the film, as the cast’s authenticity perfectly depicts being young and terrified.
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The film serves as a love letter to both the ‘90s and iconic slasher films. The former is visible through the mise en scene. Final Summer features tight t-shirts, short shorts, big hair, bulky headphones, and a vintage boombox. The nostalgia is potent, and it’s everywhere.
Most reminiscent of Friday the 13th, it also includes an older woman some might mistake for Mrs. Voorhees. The plethora of horror tropes and cliches like a thick fog, chirping crickets, and counselors “splitting up” to solve a mystery. The film even references its inspiration as a joke about their situation, satirizing the very elements they use. The score encapsulates the targeted nostalgia, as eerie music follows the killer’s actions—reminiscent of Halloween’s (1978) Micheal Myers stalking his prey.
While the film's first half tends to drag on, the second half makes the experience worthwhile. Filled with heavy exposition and little action, Final Summer initially sets itself up as slow-paced and corny. Even when Mike goes missing, much of the runtime is simply the characters looking around the woods with flashlights until something “scary” happens to them. Their choices when danger strikes are predictable and aggravating, mimicking the overused reliance on dumb decisions in horror movies. However, as plot twists and actions ensue, the film picks up steam, and Lexi becomes a character we want to root for, like all our favorite final girls. The tension and suspense accelerate alongside her, making for an exciting watch.
Final Summer is slow from the outset but grips our attention in the third act, allowing us a taste of the throwback horror from decades past through a modern lens. The character depth adds a layer of nuance to the movie, helping it stand out from the classic films they honor. They'll be pleasantly surprised if audiences can make it to the end.
Final Summer world premiered at the Popcorn Frights Film Festival on August 14, 2022.