This is the cinematic equivalent of the stopped clock telling the right time twice a day: a film full of stylistic overkill suddenly runs into the material that justifies it. Near the end of this otherwise unconvincing lakeside thriller from Canada’s Fuica brothers, there’s suddenly a protracted murderous brawl shot in an ecstatic ultra slo-mo sequence. It dazzles not just on its own terms, but for briefly elevating the film into something innovative, rather than the redundant showboating that’s gone before.
Maybe the Fuicas had too much time on their hands. Camping Trip is the fruit of Covid-19 lockdown, and hinges on a tenuous pandemic tie-in. Pent-up party people Ace (Alex Gravenstein) and Coco (Hannah Forest Briand) hook up with besties Enzo (co-director Leonardo Fuica) and Polly (Caitlin Cameron) for some forest-bathing R&R beside a secluded lake. But they stumble on the corpse of a doctor involved in some kind of shady tradeoff, who has dumped a bag of money in their tent; if that wasn’t nice enough, he’s left a patent for a prototype vaccine in there, too. The prospect of instant riches divides the party, with skint Ace keen on scarpering with the proceeds. It’s not a great time for Orick (Michael D’Amico) and Billy (Jonathan Vanderzon), the little’n’large roughnecks who offed the doctor, to turn up at the fireside.
There’s not much logic or depth to any of this. Characterisation is puddle-deep, with Ace’s serial dick-flashing predominating. It’s not every day you see protagonists having a bisexual foursome, something that goes weirdly unexplored in the later tensions. Everyone behaves idiotically, prompted by story needs: the first squabble over the loot is quickly forgotten, so they can have an impromptu dance party to draw in the criminals. The actors overcompensate for the weak script with postural, shrill performances. The directors overcompensate, never throwing in one drone shot when three or four will do.
Which makes the sudden lurch into an operatic bloodbath, shot with considerable psychological acuity, all the more impressive. Shortly afterwards, there is a second confrontation that’s almost as eye-catchingly lensed, the camera swivelling ceaselessly to reveal and then hide the carnage, a bit like Jack Nicholson’s death scene in The Passenger. The Fuicas don’t hone the choreography as finely this time, but clearly there is some visual talent there. So it’s a shame they bandy it around indiscriminately, like noisy city folk in the sticks.
• Camping Trip is available on digital platforms on 16 August.