TIFF23: Hell of a Summer Provides Dreadfully Gory Fun

Courtesy of TIFF

Hell Of A Summer premiered at TIFF on September 10th to a wild midnight crowd with great success and admirable affection from its audience. This film is a remarkable directorial debut from Billy Bryk and Finn Wolfhard. Despite the lack of experience for these two young actors, their novice does not curdle Hell Of A Summer. Written and directed by Bryk and Wolfhard, this film could have gone horribly wrong, yet I found it funny, dreadfully gory, and even surprising.

The summer camp slasher tropes are alive and well, with strong satirical commentary from a GenZ perspective. Where so often older writers fail to capture the realistic lingo of younger generations, this Zoomer duo perfectly encapsulates their peers in archetypes both new and old.

Sticking to the themes of Bryk and Wolfhard’s fresh faces, Hell Of A Summer is stacked with young, promising, rising talent. Fred Hechinger is Jason, a 24-year-old struggling to leave adolescence behind and join adulthood by venturing into the world of internships and paying taxes separately from his parents. He’s also a bit of an oddball, square, and camp nerd. You may recognize Hechinger from the first season of The White Lotus, where he played Sidney Sweeney’s younger brother. As Jason, Hechinger gives some of the same performance but with more energy and anxiety.

Hell Of A Summer, L-r: Bobby (Bily Bryk), Chris (Finn Wolfhard), Shannon (Krista Nazaire), Background l-r, Claire (Abby Quinn), Noelle (Julia Lalonde), Jason (Fred Hechinger) looking out a cabin window waiting for the others to return.
Courtesy of TIFF.

Jason’s love interest, Claire, is played by actress and singer-songwriter Abby Quinn, who seems the most normal and well-adjusted of all the characters. She takes a particular interest in Jason’s decided return to the camp and can see the fears written underneath his skin. The two are well-paired as a central romance; however, their chemistry could have been more vital.

D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai is Mike, the handsome boy toy with a habit of repeating the same story and little identity outside his relationship with Demi (Pardis Saremi). You may recognize Woon-A-Tai from the highly acclaimed FX show Reservation Dogs. He’s undoubtedly a talent to watch out for, and in the context of Hell Of A Summer, he gives a campily dumb and arrogant jockstrap performance. Alongside Pardis Saremi, who gives the classic mean girl caricature in her performance as Demi, these two actors have great chemistry and feed off each other’s performances well.

I was pleasantly surprised to see The Lake alum Julia Lalonde as Noelle. I admire her dry and sarcastic stoner performance in the Prime Video show, and her performance in Hell Of A Summer has some of the same dark energy. However, Noelle is much more the stereotypical goth than a stoner with hypocritical fears and overconfidence in her ‘clairvoyance’.

We also get archetypes of the drama queen, Ezra (Mathew Finlan); the filmmaker, Ari (Daniel Gravelle); and the vegan, Miley (Julia Doyle). Finlan is hilariously flamboyant and obsessed with the stage, often referring to the theatre as his true home. Gravelle is oddly referential of Timothee Chalamet in his physicality, wardrobe, etc. However, I’m sure that translates to the abstract idea of a skinny indie boy calling himself a playwright or an artist with a cigarette in hand, weak ankles and a nut allergy they declare makes them oppressed by society. Doyle is delightfully funny and hypocritical in her performative activism.

As for our writers and directors, their performances in the film are ever-present and perhaps more indulgent than most supporting characters, storywise. However, Bryk and Wolfhard are both very comedically talented and their friendship, with all its quirks, shines onscreen. Billy Bryk is Bobby, the horny American Pie teenager obsessed with his lack of action and level of attractiveness. Finn Wolfhard is Chris, a wealthy yet kindhearted gender studies student you can’t help but fall in love with. This is true of one character on screen. Wolfhard’s love interest, Shannon, is played by Krista Nazaire, and her chemistry with Wolfhard is palpable. The two are easy to root for, and their awkward “I like you”s are brilliantly accurate to teenage romance.

Not a single performance felt out of place; these young actors were perfectly cast to each archetype, and their humorous performances were a pleasure to watch. I highly commend the teamwork of Billy Bryk and Finn Wolfhard on Hell Of A Summer; they’ve certainly exceeded expectations.

Audiences are in for some great jumpscares and practical effects. Our opening murder features a guitar brutally used as a weapon, committing the final blow. Its shock value is extraordinary, and the following hits measure closely to the first. The tension in anticipation of attacks on our beloved characters is well captured, as are the fights that follow.

I can’t wait to watch Hell Of A Summer again, preferably near Halloween, with some friends and a cocktail.

Written by Isobel Grieve

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