“…it’s reassuring to see this oft-told tale handled so well from all involved…”
by Rob Rector
Last year I saw a preview in the theater for a film that I thought was filled with potential called Black Rock, starring Lake Bell, Kate Bosworth and The League’s Katie Aselton. The plot looked like it had the potential for being a female Deliverance, with a group of gals reuniting on a remote island, but running afoul of some local yahoos.
The film then fell off the radar, and, after later watching it at home, I understood why it was relegated to the Redbox bin.
My hope for quality, nature-based, survivalist thrills undeterred, I bunkered down with Solo, a Canadian indie that marks the first film produced by the horror site ‘Shock Til You Drop.’ It’s an interesting choice for the site to back, as it is fairly straightforward narratively; and instead of splurging on buckets of blood that one might expect from a fright-site financier, there seems to be a good amount of money spent on hiring talent both in front of and behind the camera.
Annie Clark stars as Gillian, a teen camp counselor who undergoes a solitary two-day island stay as part of the camp requirements. Stop your eye rolling! I know the words “teen,” “camp” and “island” may induce a yawn for seasoned genre viewers, but hang with this one, as there is still much to appreciate.
First, Solo flirts with past tragedies, not just within the campsite itself, but with our protagonist. We get flashes of Gillian next to a hospital bed with a sick loved one, we see her pop an occasional pill, and we see her uneasily trying to reacclimate socially with the others. Clark is terrific in providing a realism to her character that has long been lost in the genre. Her vulnerability is not reduced to mere tics, screams and jumps.
So, when shit starts to head south during her remote stay, we are generally concerned for her safety, whether it’s from the physical world or her mental state.
There are certainly a few outside elements that could easily contribute to her unrest, as well. First-time writer/director Isaac Cravit gives us just enough character development when introducing the other players as to neither slight them nor confuse the viewer. Could it be the elder camp owner who drops her off? Perhaps it’s another young counselor looking to terrorize Gillian as part of an initiation ceremony? Or maybe it’s the creepy fella who’s fishing nearby and offers to help when he hears a distress call?
Genre junkies should be able to guess the twists and turns fairly easily, but the mere fact that Solo made me want to stick around to see if I was correct says something about the film. Cravit and cinematographer Stephen Chung make the most of the Canadian vistas, providing a professional sheen not frequent in first-time outings.
Solo stands alone for what it is not, despite its familiar trappings: it’s not terribly graphic (though there is a “money shot” involving an anchor that many will enjoy), there’s no creepy camera lingering over its female lead (or her camp-mates, for that matter), and there is a subtlly effective musical score that lurks rather than leaps.
There’s nothing revelatory, but it’s reassuring to see this oft-told tale handled so well from all involved, crafting Solo into a solid, effective, shutter island.