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Review of ‘Hell of a Summer’: A Debut Feature by Finn Wolfhard and Billy Bryk Delivers a Thrilling Horror Throwback

Hell of a Summer

Hollywood has a rich history of actors making the transition to directing, with legendary filmmakers like Clint Eastwood, Ron Howard, and Sofia Coppola starting their careers in front of the camera. In recent years, stars like Greta Gerwig, Bradley Cooper, and Jordan Peele have also found success behind the lens. The latest actor to venture into directing is Finn Wolfhard of “Stranger Things” fame, co-directing and co-writing “Hell of a Summer” alongside his close friend Billy Bryk. What’s particularly intriguing is that Wolfhard and Bryk are still in their early 20s, in contrast to performers like Michael B. Jordan, who spent over two decades on-screen before directing this year’s “Creed III.”

Their film draws clear inspiration from classic summer camp slasher movies like “Friday the 13th,” “Sleepaway Camp,” and “The Final Girls.” The story primarily revolves around Jason (played by Fred Hechinger), an optimistic 24-year-old who reluctantly agrees to return as a camp counselor at his beloved summer camp, Camp Pineway, despite being older than his fellow counselors. The ensemble includes characters like the amorous duo, Bobby and Chris (portrayed by Bryk and Wolfhard), the unattainable diva Demi (played by Pardis Saremi), the introverted Claire (Abby Quinn), the athletic Mike (D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai), the thespian Ezra (Matthew Finlan), the hipster Ari (Daniel Gravelle), the staunch vegan Miley (Julia Doyle), the goth girl Noelle (Julia Lalonde), and Chris’ crush Shannon (Krista Nazaire), among others. Unfortunately, their days of revelry, romance, and merriment take a dark turn when a masked killer is unleashed in the woods, picking them off one by one.

‘Hell of a Summer’ Boasts an Energetic and Lovable Cast of Characters


While “Hell of A Summer” may not present the most original premise, co-directors Billy Bryk and Finn Wolfhard are acutely aware of that fact, and they’ve managed to craft one of the most entertaining and crowd-pleasing slasher films of the 2020s. The film benefits immensely from the youthfulness of both the cast and the creative team, particularly in the way the young adult characters authentically speak and interact. Yes, they make foolish decisions and revel in their own brand of stupidity, but it’s remarkably relatable.

For those unfamiliar with Fred Hechinger, he’s a remarkably talented actor who has finally begun receiving the recognition he deserves, notably for his role as the tech-savvy wealthy teenager Quinn in Season 1 of “The White Lotus.” In “Hell of A Summer,” Hechinger takes on a role that couldn’t be more different. His character, Jason, is somewhat of a misfit. After all, how many 24-year-olds would eagerly embrace the role of a summer camp counselor? The answer is, not many, especially if you ask some of Jason’s fellow campers. Nevertheless, he serves as the beating heart of this nostalgic slasher, and Hechinger’s performance elevates the character beyond what could have easily become a grating and irritating loner. Hechinger’s Jason doesn’t deserve to be pursued by a killer wearing a demonic mask (though, in truth, nobody does), but his portrayal adds depth to the character. Alongside him is Quinn, who left a strong impression earlier this year in M. Night Shyamalan’s “Knock at the Cabin” and continues to shine as a pivotal part of the cast, portraying Claire, Jason’s longtime camp crush.

‘Hell of a Summer’ Suffers From Some of the Same Pitfalls of Other Directorial Debuts

TIFF Toronto International Film Festival 2023

Despite its strong cast, “Hell of A Summer” takes its time to hit its stride following an engaging opening kill. This initial murder sets the tone for what the film has to offer. The first act feels like a reimagining of the generic teen sex comedies that were prevalent in the 90s. Once the killings commence, the film gains momentum. While the plot twists are fairly predictable, they don’t diminish the film’s entertainment value.

As is often the case with directorial debuts, “Hell of A Summer” exhibits the hallmarks of a “first film.” It can be a bit clumsy, occasionally shying away from fully showcasing some of the more impressive kills, and it exudes a distinctly low-budget quality. The dimly lit nighttime sequences make it challenging to discern crucial moments. Given their youth, Wolfhard and Bryk have ample time to mature as filmmakers, and embarking on their first film at this stage provides them with a head start. However, this doesn’t prevent their debut from occasionally feeling overly cautious, with the expected gore surprisingly restrained.

The humor, too, falls into a hit-or-miss category. While some improvised lines, such as Hechinger’s character referring to hot dogs as “weenies,” elicit genuine laughter, other moments, like recurring jokes about veganism and zodiac signs, fall flat. In addition to being predictable, the plot twists attempt to introduce a touch of social commentary but end up feeling like an afterthought rather than a lasting impact. Nevertheless, despite the film’s messy aspects, the directors’ potential shines through. With lessons learned from this initial endeavor, there’s undoubtedly room for improvement in their future work.

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