Alastair Orr has made a string of interesting horror films in South Africa – The Unforgiving, Expiration, Indigenous, From a House on Willow Street. Here, he tackles the camping in the woods sub-genre – with a few overtones of Battle Royale and All the Boys Love Mandy Lane – and delivers his most effective, suspenseful picture yet.
A bunch of young folks – who went to school together but are now college-age – go into the woods for a sort-of reunion, though they aren’t exactly a group of friends since ‘what happened with Caleb’. After a few soap opera strands – infidelities, drug habits, old resentments, scheming – are set in motion, everyone is knocked out … and wakes up strapped into a suicide vest with a timer that’s counting down. Mr Peterson (Sean Cameron Michael), a former teacher and the father of the late Caleb, shows up and semi-explains what he’s done and why he’s done it – then kills himself. Whenever a timer counts to zero, the vest explodes – the bomb device which has the least time to go glows infernal red – but anyone who kills someone else inherits their minutes – though, strictly, this means that anyone who’s closest to someone who dies makes the gain, not necessarily the murderer. Some of the kids take more easily to murder than others – and, as the backstory establishes, there’s almost certainly a killer in the group even before the game starts. Peterson says that there can only be one winner.
A South African cast do a reasonable job of playing archetypal American characters – the array includes an innocent (Liesl Ahlers), a brain (Reine Stewart), a drug dealer (Russell Crous), a rock drummer (Cameron Scott), a bad boy (Steven John Ward), a couple of mean girl BFFs (Kayla Privett, Paige Bonnin), and a few who are made examples of before they’ve really registered. It’s not too hard to guess how the characters are going to act, though there are revelations about everyone – and some of them emerge a bit from their stereotype to show themselves as better or worse than we expected (nice aside – one guy knew his friend was an incipient sociopath because he didn’t cry at the end of Terminator 2), with the winnowing down process making for some gruesome, harrowing moments. David D. Jones’ script is constructed as well as the suicide vests, and Orr’s direction is nicely pacey – this doesn’t need extraneous flashbacks, and sticks entirely to the woods and these characters in their extreme peril.