Directed by Isaac Cravit
The Toronto After Dark Film Festival showcases genre films from around the world; yet, it also is fond of supporting local and homegrown films, and the Canadian summer camp thriller Solo proves to be one of the annual fest’s most diverting entries.
Solo (not to be confused with the late Nineties Mario Van Peebles action flop) tells the story of Gillian (Clark), a seventeen-year-old girl who is eager to move on from a traumatizing family tragedy that occurred a year before by taking a job as a camp counselor at a beautiful, albeit isolated summer camp. All is great until Gillian is told by the camp leader (Clarkin) that she must go on ‘solo’ initiation, which includes spending two days alone on a remote island, before becoming an official counselor.
Before going on the trip, Gillian is told by a couple of her potential co-workers of how a young camper named Janie disappeared decades ago on the very same island and is rumored to be haunting it as well. During her ‘solo,’ a local man named Ray (Kash) and his dog respond to a distress call that she didn’t make. Slightly paranoid, Gillian pushes this incident aside until a creepy encounter happens that very night and what was supposed to be a fun survival trip quickly takes a turn for the worse when something or someone starts stalking her, and from then on in Gillian must fight, use her wits and trust no one in order to survive.
One of the standout highlights of this Canadian horror indie is that despite appearing like a paint-by-numbers camp slasher flick, Solo manages to avoid all the standard pitfalls, tropes and gratuitous nudity typically exploited in this subgenre, and it serves as a much welcome change. In his first full-length feature, writer/director Isaac Cravit also makes the smart decision to showcase affluent cinematography of the woods outside of Algonquin Park (from cinematographer Stephen Chung) instead of relying on overly used computer effects. Furthermore, the director also creates a well-executed climax in bright daylight, which also can be appreciated by hard-core horror fans that are used to straining their eyes to watch tense low-budget chase sequences happen after dark.
Solo may avoid the generic horror tropes typically seen in slashers; however, it does have many predictable twists and turns that fans of the genre will be able to catch from the end of the first act. Regardless of its foreseeable plot devices, the film is elevated by a breakout “final girl” performance by Annie Clark and veteran character actor Daniel Kash’s ominous acting abilities onscreen.
Solo proves to be a taut, suspenseful thriller, and although it may not break new ground in the genre, it still is able to regale viewers with its unnerving premise, atmospheric cinematography and its ability to rejoice in a subgenre that usually lacks innovation.
3 1/2 out of 5