Valentine’s Day. A day to snuggle with your significant other on a bed of roses, nibbling chocolates as you passionately ogle the dead children in Camp Cold Brook. Chad Michael Murray and Danielle Harris star in the paranormal romp, which arrives to select theaters, Digital, and On Demand on Friday, February 14th, 2020 thanks to Shout! Studios.
Cold Brook, Oklahoma—population 1,000 souls. In 1990, the town was the scene of a shockingly gruesome mass homicide at a summer camp in the woods. Here, 28 children were poisoned and then drowned in the creek at the church-owned property, reportedly the victims of a local witch. Left abandoned for the past 30 years, forgotten by the outside world and viewed as ‘marked’ by the locals, Camp Cold Brook still sits amid the forest, decaying.
Enter expert paranormal investigation team HauntSquad, who have made a career out of making the incredible credible. With their network ratings at an all-time low and the future of their series hanging in the balance, the group—led by doubting Jack (Murray: One Tree Hill series, House of Wax 2005)—must create one episode to rule them all.
Along with newest recruit, fervent believer Emma (Candice De Visser: The Funhouse Massacre 2015), gear wiz Kevin (Michael Eric Reid: Victorious series, The Honor Farm 2017), and woman of all trades Angela (Harris: Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers 1988, Inoperable 2017), HauntSquad heads to the sticks to set up camp (pun intended) at the scene of the massacre.
With no cell phone service or radio contact with the outside world, the team settle into their new surroundings and begin to attempt to unravel the mysteries of the camp. It’s not long before they are accosted with noises, phantom footsteps, the sound of children’s laughter, and all the hallmarks of a traditional haunting. But as the evidence mounts in the case of Camp Cold Brook, Jack will be faced with one of the biggest questions of his life: Are ghosts real and can they do you harm?
Clocking in at 86 minutes, Camp Cold Brook was directed by Andy Palmer (The Funhouse Massacre 2015, Badlands of Kain 2016) and was written by Alex Carl (Reeves Road short 2017). The film also features the acting talents of Courtney Gains (Back to the Future 1985, The ‘Burbs 1989), Mary Buss (Found Objects 2012, Climate of the Hunter 2019), Doug Van Liew (Rainbow Around the Sun 2008, Salem series), Mary Kathryn Bryant (Children of the Corn: Runaway video 2018, True Detective series), Loren Ledesma (This Indie Thing series, Solitary Confinement 2018), Cate Jones (Arrows of Outrageous Fortune 2019, Doom Patrol series), and more.
Camp Cold Brook is a pretty fun ride! Utilizing the format for a standard Paranormal Thriller/Horror offering, the film manages to work wonderfully within its framework to provide a fully enjoyable camping experience. Following a veritable checklist on how to spook its audience-goers, there’s underexposure, tight frames, hand-held/POV footage, and even infrasound that will demand that every hair on the back of your neck rises to attention. Which is not to say that the film has no flaws, but they are certainly packaged in such a way that many can be easily overlooked by a non-observant watcher or simply forgiven by those lost in the thrall.
What the film does so well is build tension with all of the aforementioned methods, and also by pacing itself properly to build a palpable tension. Sure, there are jump-scares, but they never feel cheap or forced. Instead, we move slowly towards the edge of our seats as the darkness envelopes the camp and the unknown hides around every corner. It’s not frightening so much as eerie at times, building toward those delicious ‘oh crap!’ moments that spike the adrenaline.
Much of this is thanks to the film’s wonderful cast, particularly Murray and Harris. Harris demands your attention in her role as Angela, easily spooked but rightfully so. She mans (or womans) the computers and surveillance while also providing several little playful quips at the expense of Reid’s Kevin. For his part, Kevin is a less intense character, at times lighthearted and at others carrying a bit of a chip on his technologically-inclined shoulders. This vacillating within his role feels entirely natural; like a member of a team who is slowly regretting their choices.
Conversely, Murray wonderfully translates the charismatic onscreen personality of paranormal investigators like Zak Bagans. He doesn’t believe half of what’s coming out of his own mouth, and we know it and somehow forgive him for it. In this, Murray is challenged with a meta-performance: acting a role within a role and he delivers. Fortunately, he is given plenty of material to work with, though co-star De Visser suffers in this respect. Her Emma is the meekest personality on the team, largely relegated to the back until the story begins snowballing. In this, De Visser does well at playing it cool until her big moment arrives.
Camp Cold Brook does have one glaring fault: it’s twist ending. The story arc that leads into the twist comes in far too late to feel anything but forced, though its creators were self-aware enough to have quelled any complaints at the start of the film. (That is, if you were paying close attention.) Either way, the film’s conclusion leans toward the ridiculous and cliche, but it somehow never manages to entirely undo all the work that came before.
If you frighten easily, Camp Cold Brook might bring forth some shrieks. For those of us Horror aficionados with an ironclad constitution, well, it has some creepy moments and it’s definitely an enjoyable ride. Considering the completely non-terrifying state of modern Horror, that says a lot. For this, Cryptic Rock give Camp Cold Brook 4 of 5 stars.