Written by Rebecca McCallum
The sun is shining and the weather is sweet as a truck careers its way into Camp Calypso. The year is 1978 and a wide-eyed but inquisitive Margot arrives to meet with Camp Counsellors Heather (a nod to one of my favourite final girls, Nancy?) and Cherry. The camp is overseen by Director Pete, a chain smoking, whisky slurping, rugged cowboy who is hero worshipped by the male counsellors. During a night of fireside marshmallow toasting a legend involving mysterious and dark Sirens who haunt the surrounding lake is told. However, as the campers begin to go unexplainably missing suspicions are soon raised as to whether the legend might be steeped more in fact than fiction.
Among the film’s greatest achievements is its sublime aesthetic with meticulous attention to detail that is seldom done so well elsewhere. In particular, the costumes (designed by Emma Cogan) lead the way in creating the film’s colour palette which consists of the boldness of yellow, blue green and red. This could feel gimmicky or overindulgent but within the context of the film and as it is executed to such a high standard it successfully conveys an authentic sense of time and place. One of the most unforgettable elements of Camp Calypso is the closing credits which, with their brightly coloured animations, stir up a nostalgic feeling and alongside this the gentle guitar jingle is also rewardingly hummable! Bookended and punctuated throughout with a synthy and at times operatic score, sound and vision work in harmony and compliment one another, acting as two moving parts of one machine rather than separately conceived entities. Performances from the cast are solid and for a short film incredibly well realised and developed. The special effects are worthy of much credit too as they are wonderfully simple but hauntingly memorable.
The themes of male oppression and female objectification are presented and explored with such craft and truthfulness that at times I felt as though my own experiences were being realised and that the female film makers were drawing on real life source material. Director Pete is the ultimate embodiment of the oppressive male and his behaviours both in the present and in the past (as told through flashbacks) serve to demonstrate this. At the camp, only male characters are shown taking the megaphone in order to bark orders and ensure that their voices are heard above anyone else’s representing the misogyny that exists. In the opening scene, we witness Cherry being objectified not by one man but several and there are two later incidents when Heather and Cherry meet with the opposite sex (one to share a joint and the other to assist with lifejackets) where the male interprets this as an invitation for physical intimacy. These scenes alone are enough to evidence the complexities in relation to gender and sex but Cumming and Boon turn these moments of potential victimhood into moments of triumph by showing the females rejecting the unwanted advances they receive with strength, intelligence, and tenacity. While we see men viewing women through the lens of a camera, it’s also important to note that women are shown looking at men through a pair of binoculars. However, whereas the male uses the camera in a voyeuristic mode the females watch in order to gather information which ultimately aides in their chances for survival.
A creation of The Monstrous Femme film collective, Camp Calypso clearly has roots in Barbara Creed’s seminal literary work The Monstrous Feminine. Furthermore, it is ripe and rich in its influences spanning from classical mythology to the summer camp slashers of the 1970s. As a short (running just under 20 minutes) the film achievements are phenomenal with plenty of neatly integrated and tastefully subtle homages to horror favourites such as Friday the 13th, Sleepaway Camp, Peeping Tom, the works of John Carpenter and the rape revenge sub-genre. There is even something for fans of horror on television as the opening titles are evocative of Twin Peaks with its thick green lettering, dreamy synth sounds and mountain landscapes. The film’s biggest take home however is its ruminations on gender politics and it is both refreshing and empowering to see a work that plays about with the assumptions and conventions that surround the issue with such smartness and creativity. At one point, the strong headed Cherry remarks: ‘this wasn’t it in the handbook’ and here it certainly feels that the Monstrous Femme collective are ripping up the handbook and rewriting it for a new generation in order to bring a fresh and feminist perspective to the genre.
Verdict: 4 out of 5
For more information on Camp Calypso and Monstrous Femme Films.