To paraphrase The Dark Knight’s Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman), Never Hike Alone isn’t the Friday the 13th fan film Camp Crystal Lakers deserve, but it’s the film they needed.
Vincente DiSanti’s nearly hour-long homage to the Friday the 13th saga followed in the footsteps of Mark Swift and Damian Shannon (Friday the 13th, 2009), proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that handing the reins over to someone with an alchemist’s balance of filmmaking talent and passionate knowledge of the franchise can lead to something truly spectacular.
Make no mistake, Never Hike Alone is the Friday (kinda sorta) found footage flick we didn’t even know we wanted. Yes, think back to the almost universal groan that emerged from the throats of fans when news first broke that our next foray into the woods was to be found footage. Very few were into such an approach, but had this been the finished product (with 30 minutes tacked on), my money would be on the clear majority changing their tune.
The film follows adventure blogger Kyle McLeod (Andrew Leighty) as he embarks on a hike he’s recording for an internet program that has him in search of a lake. As luck would have it, it’s Crystal Lake, and as the Never Hike Alone press release states, “Ignoring the campfire tales from his childhood, Kyle’s search turns deadly when he crosses the path of Camp Blood’s legendary murderer, Jason Voorhees.”
Though Leighty does his best Castaway throughout the bulk of the picture, it’s a testament to DiSanti’s writing and directorial pacing that established a tone that methodically built tension that never relinquished its grip. Viewers will be all-in from the first frame to the last.
Never Hike Alone is more than just a strong concept, its execution is precise in every regard, from the script to the acting to technical aspects. Cinematographer Christopher Tellas’ use of natural light is sensationally beautiful in showcasing the ruins of the abandoned camp, and Sarah D. Cole and Sarah C. DiSanti’s edits from hand-held to locked camera are bloody seamless.
For what has at times been a cookie cutter saga, every step of the journey was sensible, nothing felt forced, which was a refreshing departure from most Friday flicks. Never Hike Alone hit every note, taking the story from faux-documentary to dramatic, then from funny to frightening, and all in less than an hour.
Homages are strewn throughout, from a bed that will not only be immediately recognized by Friday fans, but leave them grinning ear-to-ear. To say nothing of a cameo sure to have Crystal Lake disciples squealing at the screen. That Never Hike Alone was built on a shoestring budget of just $40,000 generated through a Kickstarter campaign, speaks volumes about the considerable skills of DiSanti and Womp Stomp Films.
Not everything is perfect, but if we’re honest with ourselves, name one Friday the 13th film that is. Kyle’s recap of past events is a bit too concise in this writer’s estimation, and some of the battle scenes are a bit over-choreographed and slow-moving, which isn’t in keeping with Jason’s swift justice, but that doesn’t take away from the overall experience of the picture.
And speaking of Jason, DiSanti’s version is angry and brutal, and offers a little something for everyone. Whether you prefer human or zombie Voorhees, there are hints of both, though skewed in the direction of mortality.
As a Friday freak, trust this writer, Never Hike Alone displays, if not the best, certainly the most satisfying finale to any Crystal Lake fare – studio or fan – that we’ve ever laid eyes on. Just know that the film builds to a crescendo that will leave campers cheering.
Above all, Never Hike Alone conveys a simple, yet indisputable truth: when the dust finally settles on Friday’s legalities, whichever studio assumes control simply needs to hire someone like Vincente DiSanti to helm the franchise’s 13th film, then get out of the way.
Never Hike Alone is currently available on YouTube.