Camping Trip is set during the summer of 2020, that weird phase of the pandemic where things partially opened up but nobody really knew what to do with themselves. Mask mandates had lifted in most red states. The President of the United States was hawking miracle cures in lieu of vaccines, which seemed impossibly far off. Cities varied in their levels of regulation and emphasis on social distancing. Nobody really knew what to do. It kind of sucked.
Stuck in the middle of it all are Enzo (Leonardo Fuica, who also wrote and co-directed the film with his brother Demian), his wife, Polly (Caitlin Cameron), his friend Ace (Alex Gravenstein), and Ace’s wife, Coco (Hannah Forest Briand). The foursome all suffer from social-distancing exhaustion and the economic problems that came with the pandemic recession. They want to get away somewhere where it doesn’t matter, so they decide to rough it. The four city slickers end up in the wrong place at the wrong time, and a simple camping trip ends up as the worst night of their lives.
Don’t take that to mean Camping Trip is a horror film, despite the setting. This isn’t a Friday the 13th kind of jam — although it does end up pretty nasty by the time the credits roll. The first half of the film’s nearly two-hour runtime is largely character-building for the main couples and their pandemic struggles. Some of the pandemic humor lands, some of it doesn’t. They’re all somewhat unsympathetic characters, particularly Enzo, who has several secrets that never feel properly developed and a poor disposition toward his elderly neighbors. For the amount of time spent on the characters, when the shit hits the fan, everything moves forward at the pace of plot.
Unfortunately, the crime aspect just doesn’t work. Doc (Ben Pelletier) is trying to do a meet-up with criminals Billy (Jonathan Vanderzon) and Orick (Michael D’Amico) over some money and a vaccine secret. It all feels very arbitrary given the amount of time spent on the main characters. Long story short: The two couples find the money and a dead body in the woods. They’re briefly conflicted over what to do with it. Go to the police? Take the money? They’re all in debt. If nobody knows the money is gone, is it really a crime? Their decision leads to a confrontation with the surviving criminals and it all goes downhill from there.
There’s plenty of blood and gore to go around at the end, although it doesn’t feel particularly earned. It’s cinematic but contrived, enjoyable on a visceral level but not satisfying as the conclusion to this story. To the Fuicas’ credit, at least, the film is quite well-directed. There’s some creative camera work during the concluding action sequence that really makes the violence sing. Also to their credit is the depiction of the Enzo / Ace / Polly / Coco quartet as openly bi-amorous, which adds an interesting tension to their story that doesn’t really go anywhere but felt unique for this kind of genre picture.
It’s not that Camping Trip is a bad movie, but I walked away feeling like it wasn’t properly calibrated. A mixed bag, as they say. The characters are never sympathetic or interesting enough to really care about them during the extended period of the film before shit goes down, and afterward, it doesn’t really feel like they were built properly to drive the plot rather than let the plot drive them. The final action sequence is choreographed well but felt somewhat unearned. I respected the craft more than I enjoyed the final product.