Spirit Camp (2009) – By Nic Brown

Teenagers… they should know better by now than to go off into the woods to a remote camp, especially one by a lake, and proceed to do what teenagers love to do in the woods (and I’m not talking arts and crafts). In the real world, the usual results of such excursions are rashes from poison ivy, bug bites, and the occasional unexpected teen pregnancy. Since the 1980s though, movie goers know what to expect: a whole lot of teenagers dead at the hands of (circle all that apply) a vengeful mother, an escaped psychopath, the “old man” who lives down near the lake, the inbred son(s) of the aforementioned old man, etc, etc…. So viewers shouldn’t be surprised at what happens to a group of cheerleaders sent to a special camp retreat to hone their pom-pom skills in writer/director Kerry Beyer’s film SPIRIT CAMP.

The movie follows a group of six high school girls going for a summer camp style excursion to work on their cheerleading skills. They are a mixed bag to say the least. Missy (Megan Moser) is the perfect all-American cheerleader, full of pep, and ready to go. Her friend Rachel (Julin) is more of a party girl than a cheerleader, but perhaps the strangest of the group is Nikki (Roxy Vandiver). Nikki is only on the cheer squad as one of her parole conditions that says she has to participate in a few more ‘wholesome’ extracurricular activities. Nikki, more of a Goth girl than a cheer girl, isn’t popular with the other girls, and also draws the ire of the camp’s overzealous cheerleading coach Lindsay (Amy Morris) who doesn’t think she should be there. Still Nikki tries to make the best of the situation and even catches the eye of Bobby, a handsome young man from the nearest town (Kerry Beyer steps out from behind the camera for this part).

Lindsay is quick to try and make all of the girls’ lives miserable with her cheer-Nazi rules, but there are worse things in the woods around the camp than demerits; a killer is on the loose. The girls find out that a few years earlier, a madman took an ax to some cheerleaders at the camp. Now the killer has escaped. As the cheerleaders, camp staff, and anyone else who shows up begin dropping like flies, Nikki and the others have to exchange their pom-poms for shotguns if any of them are going to survive.

SPIRIT CAMP is a slasher movie in the best traditions of the genre. There are plenty of grisly murders, lots of girls losing their tops and even a few red herrings to keep you guessing. Beyer takes the film beyond that though by bringing in a lot of humor and actually developing the typically two dimensional characters into people that the viewer can care about. SPIRIT CAMP also stands out from other films of the genre not just because of what it has, but because of what it doesn’t have: a huge, big studio budget. SPIRIT CAMP is an independent film and Beyer not only wrote, directed and acted in the production, he also edited it, as well as doing the cinematography, the digital effects and the sound. This is all the more impressive when one watches the film. SPIRIT CAMP looks as good as films with million dollar budgets and that says a lot about Beyer’s skill behind the camera.

SPIRIT CAMP is also blessed with a great cast. From the perverted sheriff to the smart-assed little sister of one of the cheerleaders, even the bit players in the film really bring their “A game” to the film. Especially worth noting are Jon Paul Burkhart as Brent, Lindsay’s cheerleading BFF; Amy Morris as the cheerleader from hell: Lindsay; and Emma Macinnes is a real scene stealer as Amber’s little sister. However the true star of the film is Roxy Vandiver who really brings troubled Goth girl Nikki to life. So if you’re in the mood for some old school slasher film fun with cheerleaders, check out Kerry Beyer’s SPIRIT CAMP and remember what Nikki would say: “If you wanted to tie me up and fuck me, all you had to do is ask!”

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