“It should be noted that children at play are not playing about; their games should be seen as their most serious-minded activity.”
—Michel Eyquem de Montaigne
French moralist and essayist (1533-92)
Seems some things never change. In Cullen Hoback’s look into the comings, goings and fantasy-laden adventures at Monster Camp, there’s more to glean about the tedium of life than rock ‘em sock ‘em adventure of the love-lost near Seattle.
The escapists congregate far away from suburbia on weekends where they take on active or passive roles, do battle and generally desire “a chance to ignore ‘this’—fill in your own blank—for a while.” Despite being “harmless entertainment,” we learn that a few “become their characters and asked not to show up.” Relationships equally begin on the make-believe moors or end there.
At the time of filming, chief organizer Shane Macomber was having trouble keeping staff and finding enough monsters, not to mention the ducats required to pay all the bills. World of Warcraft addict, Dave Overman, might come to the rescue, but only if he can pull himself away from his obsession with Internet gaming that rarely gets called on account of the weather.
For the uninitiated there’s a shit load of jargon (e.g., Larping is live-action role playing; NERO, New England Role-playing Organization—17 franchises that have offered real fights with plastic swords since 1989, no links to Rome or any fiddling scenes were reported) and a 200-page rule book. But wasn’t systemic drudgery a prime motivator in escaping the regular world in the first place? The process queens always ruin everything!
Anyone can play—no discrimination on any front. The NPCs (Non-Playing Characters) try to keep the peace even as the less nimble have their brains eaten by moths and flutter, expired, to the earth. No worries there either: veterans have been killed frequently. The squeamish can relax, most punishments or executions are carried out by catching up with the hapless player and declaiming the awful penalty according to paragraph 3, subsection 654(a) of the game’s rules.
The film works best as the participants reveal their reasons for playing, from “harmless entertainment,” to wheelchair respite. Others, temporarily, love to be in charge or admired (first-rate monsters are both rued and revered). Tiresome are the frequent “pop-up” slides that cheat on cinematic narrative, while providing an intriguing touch of silent-movie kitsch. Many of the lovingly made costumes and detailed face paintings are worth the price of admission alone, providing a marvellous feel of “would you go out in the woods today?”
Yet with such an overly ambitious focus and not much more than an hour to “get the story out,” Monster Camp teases, but ultimately disappoints, with its huge potential of digging much further into the minds and lives of a disparate—some desperate—collection of humanity that, largely with strangers, seeks refuge from the world as they know it. JWR