‘Camp Pleasant Lake’ Sinks Under Its Own Muddled Waters [REVIEW]

The slasher genre has given us plenty of iconic and bone-chilling summer camp settings over the decades – from the ominous forests of Camp Crystal Lake to the isolated grounds of Camp Blackfoot. These eerie locales have served as insidious playgrounds for masked killers and unspeakable horrors. With Camp Pleasant Lake, writer/director Thomas Walton had a prime opportunity to craft his own memorable campsite nightmare, complete with an enticing premise centered on resurrecting cursed grounds haunted by grisly crimes of the past. Unfortunately, Walton’s outing quickly loses its way down dimly-lit trails of narrative incoherence and wasted potential.

What could have been a tightly-wound tale of a family’s new business venture spiraling into supernatural terror gets mired in tonal whiplash and a plot that grows increasingly convoluted. Walton can’t seem to decide whether he wants to go for schlocky slasher thrills or cultivate more nuanced psychological dread. The result is a film with the body of a campy 80s stalk-and-slash flick but the soul of a ponderous, brooding supernatural chiller – a grotesque patchwork that never coalesces into anything engaging or frightening.

Walton’s inability to establish a consistent, compelling tone is compounded by his fumbling of the central mystery surrounding a young girl’s disappearance decades prior. What should be an intriguing driving force, rife with ominous reveals and unsettling ties to the present, instead unfolds as a muddled, haphazardly-constructed mess. Revelations about the dark events of the past arrive in clumsy info-dumps, failing to cultivate any true sense of dread or escalating tension as the bodies pile up in the present day.

From its opening text claiming we “cross paths with at least 20 killers in our lifetime,” Camp Pleasant Lake squanders any early intrigue or eerie foreboding almost immediately. By the time the climactic bloodbath arrives, viewers will likely be more relieved than shocked that the torturous slog is finally over. What could have been a gripping and atmospheric descent into campground carnage ends up a hopelessly waterlogged and derivative endeavor.

The biggest victim of Camp Pleasant Lake’s tonal confusion and narrative failings is the ensemble cast, who find themselves stranded in a mire of underwritten characters and cringe-inducing dialogue. Headlined by Kelly Lynn Reiter as the determined matriarch Echo Meadows, the central family at the heart of the cursed campground’s reopening never quite emerges as a fully-realized or empathetic unit.

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Reiter gives a valiant effort, attempting to imbue Echo with layers of maternal protectiveness and resilience in the face of escalating supernatural threats. But the script repeatedly undermines her performance with wildly inconsistent characterization and motivations that shift at the whims of the convoluted plot. One moment she’s the steadfast voice of reason, the next she’s making bizarre decisions that only serve to propel the story into its next ill-advised narrative detour.

The supporting players, including recognizable faces like Jonathan Lipnicki and Michael Pare in obligatory paycheck performances, fare even worse. They’re reduced to anonymous slasher movie archetypes, achieving little more than padding out the body count with hammy line deliveries and reactions of bewilderment mirroring the audience’s own confusion. Even the central hook of the camp being an interactive horror experience where guests believe the murders are staged falls embarrassingly flat.

It doesn’t help that Walton’s directorial efforts are equally scattershot. While he demonstrates flashes of visual flair in capturing the ominous ambience of the campgrounds, his subpar pacing and overreliance on cheap jump scares extinguish any lingering sense of atmospheric dread. Murky flashback sequences detailing the tragic events of the past intermingle with the rote slashing in the present, but these lofty attempts to merge psychological horror with by-the-numbers slasher territory never convincingly gel.

What’s most disheartening about the failure of Camp Pleasant Lake is how it wastes such a ripe premise built upon layers of intriguing supernatural lore and mysteries. The concept of an ill-fated family reopening the site of a young girl’s disappearance—only to find themselves ensnared in a new cycle of horrors—is unquestionably fertile ground for a chilling and character-driven frightfest. Sadly, Walton’s muddled execution buries any semblance of atmosphere or suspense under an avalanche of undeveloped ideas, derivative slasher clichés, and a fundamental lack of cohesion in pulling together the story’s deranged threads.

Devanny Pinn in Camp Pleasant Lake
Devanny Pinn in Camp Pleasant Lake

By the time the hackneyed final act revelations lurch into view, it’s hard to muster anything beyond apathy towards the fates of the shallow protagonists and their ineffectual plight to overcome the film’s nonsensical boogeyman. For horror fans craving an immersive and dread-soaked experience, Camp Pleasant Lake represents a towering missed opportunity—a premise that had all the potential to be a memorable modern genre standout before drowning in its own tidal wave of deficiencies.

In the end, Camp Pleasant Lake represents a supremely disappointing case of wasted potential. What could have been a gripping and atmospheric modern horror tale gets hopelessly lost in the woods of tonal confusion, incoherent storytelling, and a severe lack of genuine frights or suspense. Writer/director Thomas Walton squanders his film’s intriguing premise almost from the outset, failing to capitalize on the inherent creepiness of a cursed campground haunted by past tragedies.

Instead of an immersive descent into supernatural dread or an elevated slasher with creative kills and worthy final girls, viewers are treated to a tonally jumbled slog that can’t decide if it wants to be a psychological horror-thriller or a campy bodycount flick. The strong premise exists in Camp Pleasant Lake, as do sporadic moments where Walton’s visual ambitions shine through in capturing the ominous campground atmosphere. But these fleeting positives are immediately undercut by amateurish scripting, wildly uneven pacing, and a constant undercurrent of “what is going on?” bewilderment from start to finish.

Peter Augustine and Elley Ringo in Camp Pleasant Lake
Peter Augustine and Elley Ringo in Camp Pleasant Lake

By the time the climax limps into view and the hackneyed twist is revealed, it’s hard to muster anything beyond apathy towards the fates of the one-dimensional fodder characters. Camp Pleasant Lake had all the pieces to be an engaging and scary good time, but Walton’s sloppy handling of the material reduces it to a mind-numbing slog lacking any true frights, suspense, or reason for audiences to invest. For hardcore horror fans only – and even they may find this to be a draining, unsatisfying viewing experience. A supremely forgettable misfire that extinguishes its own campfire before it can truly burn bright.

For those who’ve endured the aimless terrors of Camp Pleasant Lake, or are simply diehard slasher aficionados, share your thoughts and reactions below. Did you find any redeeming qualities in Walton’s fumbled execution? Were you as underwhelmed as we were by the wasted potential? Or did you perhaps enjoy this messy but earnest stab at reviving summer camp-set horror? Let us know in the comments.