Home to “one of the most diverse ecosystems in the Catskills,” Internet video blogger Kyle McLeod’s latest back country adventure has taken him to the Wessex County National Forest. He’s experienced, he’s confident, he’s got the correct equipment thanks to his sponsors, more or less, but despite the advice he gives to his followers that it will be a tough trip unsuitable for first timers there is one lesson he is yet to learn himself – never hike alone.
An extreme sports Go-Pro experience punctuated by pauses of stunning beauty, through the night the calls of the coyote pack emphasise how from civilisation Kyle is in this wilderness, but he is not dissuaded from his self-appointed task.
Assured without the unwarranted ego and witless yammering which makes too many YouTube “celebrities” unwatchable, his destination is the lake at the heart of the forest, but taking a short cut across a barbed wire fence marked “no trespassing” he stumbles something not on any hiking guide.
On the lake shore is a holiday camp, derelict but still full of abandoned equipment and keepsakes which speak of a hasty evacuation, the broken signage indicating that this was the legendary Camp Crystal Lake which Kyle’s brother told him stories about as a child.
The site of the notorious Vorhees killings a generation before, sure enough, the police tags are still in place in the bloodstained shower room, on the camp beds, but upstairs Kyle finds something more disturbing still – indications that someone is living there, nesting in the ruins…
Written and directed by Vincente DiSanti who also doubles as Jason Vorhees, the silent presence lurking in the shadows of the deep forest, Never Hike Alone is inspired by the long-running Friday the 13th horror film series, in particular the events of Sean S Cunningham’s 1980 original, a fan film whose production values far exceed the modest expectation of such.
Filmed in the San Bernardino National Forest in California, far from the New Jersey locations used by Cunningham, cinematographer Christopher Thellas opens with drone shots high above the canyons and the forests, tracking the winding road as Ryan Perez-Daple and Trevor Vaughn’s subdued soundtrack echoes Bernard Hermann, a fateful journey to a terrible destiny which cannot be avoided.
As Kyle, Drew Leighty is perfectly cast, athletic without being overpowering, conveying confidence when recording his broadcasts but more vulnerable when off-camera, his curiosity taking him forward when he knows he should go back; with little more than Leighty’s handsome charm set against the beautiful scenery and sunsets, alone they carry the first half of the fifty-four-minute film.
Longer than might be expected of a such a project Never Hike Alone is narratively slight and does not venture beyond the boundaries of the original to whose events it is closely tied, as much homage as tangential sequel, and in keeping with that premise it is by breaking the camp rules that Kyle brings that bloody legacy upon himself, and with DiSanti an impressively menacing presence the inevitable violence and gore is equally well-staged.
Playing to the simple and primal strengths of the early Friday the 13th films, despite all but ignoring the inferior trail of sequels there is a cameo from a star of a later film which serves only to establish some fan-pleasing continuity, though in fact the film would stand just as strongly had the final scene concluded earlier with the nightmarish threat customary to the series.