Studio: Shock Till You Drop
Director: Isaac Cravit
Writer: Isaac Cravit
Producer: Chris Bennett, Robert Budreau
Stars: Annie Clark, Daniel Kash, Richard Clarkin, Steven Love, Alyssa Capriotti
A teenage camp counselor discovers she is not alone when she is forced to spend two nights isolated on an island as part of her initiation.
Every mystery movie has a conceit requiring some suspension of disbelief. “Solo” doesn’t ask for too much to be forgiven, although the idea behind its story is more than a little questionable given how society generally operates in the real world.
17-year-old Gillian struggles with a family tragedy. Swirling in guilt, suicidal tendencies, and a cocktail of anti-depressants, she takes a job as a camp counselor after her best gal pal lies to the owner about vast outdoor experience Gillian does not actually have. So that parents can have the confidence that their kids are in capable hands, Camp Kaya proprietor Fred gives new employees a baptism by fire. Gillian must spend two nights roughing it on her own in a secluded forest on a private island nearby.
Now, everything I know about camp counseling comes from the “Friday the 13th” franchise, so I am no expert in the proper manner of preparing new recruits when it comes to that job. Even with legal culpability set to the side though, abandoning an underage girl on an island without cell phone service smacks of all kinds of danger.
On their way across the water, Gillian spies a strange man boating near the supposedly abandoned property where she will spend the next 48 hours alone and asks, “who’s that?” Fred waves to the shadowed figure and responds, “good question.” Sure, Fred. Go ahead and leave the untrained girl alone in the wilderness where unknown men are seen lurking about. What can possibly go wrong? Even if this were not the beginning of a thriller movie, this is already a setup for certain disaster.
Once that lump is swallowed, however, “Solo” shakes out to be a quietly engaging suspense whodunit. Big boys of isolated woodland horror have nothing to fear from this small indie production, but it is a filling enough piece of bite-sized entertainment for anyone not too gorged on the young woman in peril premise.
The script and the story won’t win awards for originality, but “Solo” stays afloat in part because of its well-cast onscreen talent. Leading lady Annie Clark’s background as a featured player on “Degrassi” in no way skews her performance. 100+ episodes of the Canadian teen soap produced in a fast-paced telenovela format fosters some trepidation that a similarly melodramatic style might permeate her “Solo” role. Instead, Clark and director Isaac Cravit give her persona space to breathe and emote with smart confidence as opposed to forced dialogue and straining character development.
The three men playing potential foils or possible allies exhibit enough distrustfulness and uneasy charm to keep their true motives in the dark while it still matters to setting up the story. These performances keep the train on the tracks when the tempo stretches too thin to do it alone.
When it comes time for Gillian to go into survival mode, “Solo” does not go the predictable route of suddenly turning the heroine into a female John Rambo. She doesn’t smear mud on as war paint or start fashioning spears she can use to booby trap the forest. Gillian uses what a 17-year-old girl with no camping experience might actually utilize without real knowledge of how to exploit an outdoor environment. She finds a way to send her cell phone out to sea in a Ziploc bag as a distress signal and uses her prescription meds to drug food. These are small details about her behavior that go a long way towards adding realism to a movie that otherwise does not have a whole lot of it.
“Solo” shows its hand too early when the psychological “who can be trusted” angle makes way for a by-the-book action-fueled third act. At this point, the movie loses much of what made it intriguing in the first place by taking an easy route to the end credits that is entirely too beige.
“Solo” takes its time building up, and many will use the long pauses to poke holes and compare similarities to sub-genre tropes they have long grown tired of. Anyone open to reasonable expectations for a quick movie with only a small ambition for mild thrills might find “Solo” to be a decent diversion from the usual blood-soaked meat grinders of camp counselor slashing.
Review Score: 65