Monday, May 27, 2019

Wet Hot Soviet Summer

Horror movies set at summer camp aren't usually known for their plot complexity, making today's feature a pleasant enough surprise. 

Quick Plot: Teenager Adam awakens covered in black slime and mysterious scars inside a boarded up summer camp infirmary with a couple of corpses keeping him company. While his memory seems to be wiped, a driver's license and some of his own hand-written notes help him piece together the events that led him to this point.

Here's a somewhat linear account of Adam's findings: in the 1980s, Soviet scientists conducted experiments in the aim of harnessing the "hive mind" possibilities inherent in humanity. Bad things happened, and the findings were sealed until some thirty years later when a neurosurgeon (Sean Gunn!) decided to explore the same phenomenon, reopening the files which were then hijacked by the original scientist.

As for Adam, life is less interesting: he's a horny camp counselor decent at seducing his coworkers (including best bud Chad's girlfriend Jess). He tries to tame his ways once he (literally) bumps into sweet anti-cursing Katie, but his romance agenda gets interrupted when a plane crashes nearby. The quartet ride out to investigate, only to encounter a mysteriously zombie-like passenger who pukes some infectious goo on the ill-fated Jess.

With the power down and seemingly no other adults employed at the camp, the group attempts to stay calm amid the chaos, eventually remembering that they're in charge of some 150 children. Possessed Jess stirs the pot, throwing everyone into some dark spaces as the Russian theory of interconnectivity proves dangerously real.

That's a lot of plot for a 90 minute horror movie streaming on Amazon Prime, which is both The Hive's central strength and weakness. When I see a synopsis of such a film that mentions camp counselors, I'm not expecting Inception-levels of complexity. The Hive plays a lot with its timeline, keeping us on the same playing field as Adam as he tries to put things together. It's done quite well, and helps to make what would otherwise be a fairly bland, unlikable character into someone worth following.

At the same time, the constant time jumping and hints of a worldwide infection can't fully compensate for the fact that Adam and Chad are awful people who should in no way be put in charge of kids. 

Directed by James Gunn pal David Yarovesky (he of the newly released Brightburn), The Hive is of far higher quality than its lack of a reputation might suggest. Its cover, synopsis, and placement on Amazon Prime do not suggest any real standards, but it's a surprisingly creative story with decent execution. Had its central characters been a hint more interesting, this movie could have been something genuinely special.

High Points
As much as I would have rather this movie not be about a douchey teenage dude, actor Gabriel Basso does a darn good job, especially considering the challenges when half of your dialogue is your character talking to himself

Low Points
There are certainly highs to find in an ending (mild spoiler) that gives an a rather out-of-nowhere apocalypse, but it's hard to feel anything from it when the movie hasn't really earned that level of grandeur

Lessons Learned
Never enroll your child in summer camp without thoroughly researching the teenage sadists who will be in control

Swearing too much makes you sound stupid

Brooms and baseball bats are decent weapons for self-defense, but when you really get down to it, nothing beats a full a roll of Saran Wrap

The Hive is an impressive feat for such an under the radar horror movie. It never fully grabbed me (probably due to focusing on some pretty bland and awful teenagers) but it's smartly written, well-acted, and genuinely unique in the story it tells. 


  1. Oh! I've passed this one over so many times... the title-image (cover? poster? What do we call the little pictures on Amazon/Netflix?)grabs my intention, then I read that it's about teenage camp counselors and I move on looking for something to watch.
    But your description sells it better, so I'll have to give it a watch this week.

    1. What's funny is I was totally in for a dumb slasher about camp counselors! It's definitely more complex than that.

  2. The effects on the people that have 'become' part of the hive are super interesting and unsettling. I loved the wall-eyed look to their pupils, and the fact that the 'hive' talked to him and was curious about his feelings and apologized that he was upset. Somehow that was a thousand times more creepy than if it was outwardly violent and hostile to him.

    1. True, I liked that these weren't black and white villains. There was more going on than you'd expect from the premise.