Ever since the release of the reboot in 2009, Paramount has struggled to come up with a new instalment in the long-running Friday the 13th franchise: should it be found footage? Another origin?
Released last Friday (the 13th, geddit?), Never Hike Alone is a 55 minute-long argument for popular characters falling into the public domain. Written and directed by Vincente DiSanti (who also stars as the hockey-masked killer), Never Hike Alone takes a tacky premise (a found footage movie starring Jason Vorhees) and finds a way to make it work.
Its masterstroke is the focus on an individual POV. With bad casting and writing this device could have torpedoed the movie, but DiSanti succeeds on both counts. As Kyle, Drew Leighty is legitimately terrific. He is so naturalistic and likeable it never feels like you are watching a stock character in a Friday movie. It is a testament to his abilities that the movie remains completely engrossing, as for most of the movie, he is the only person onscreen. Kyle is also a great character - smart, self-sufficient and funny, he grounds the movie.
And because he does not fit the mould of the usual dumb, horny teenager the movie becomes weirdly unpredictable. Once Jason makes his entrance, Kyle's disbelief and terror feel queasily real in a way that does not feel cheesy.
DiSanti's direction is also leaps and bounds beyond what you would expect with a fan film. The photography, lighting and sound design are immersive and atmospheric (just look at that screen shot below). He also has a solid grasp of pacing and tone, holding back on the expected tropes far longer than I expected.
It is a testament to how good DiSanti's build up is that you do not see Jason for over 20 minutes.
And once the big guy turns up, DiSanti pulls out all the stops to make Jason as terrifying as possible. Even if you have never seen a Friday movie, you know what Jason looks like. DiSanti has a firm grasp on what makes Jason scary, and slow-rolls his appearance, making great use of the widescreen frame and brief glimpses of the familiar mask.
In the flesh, Jason can come across as a lumbering automaton, but DiSanti takes great care to make sure that the recognisable aspects of his persona feel horrifyingly tactile. Jason's heavy footsteps, deliberate movements and sudden bursts of violence are all well-orchestrated. DiSanti even makes Jason's weird ability to appear and disappear feel uncanny rather than silly. It is in large part because of his direction and Drew Leighty's performance that this tired old slasher feels like a visceral threat.
While it does a great job of making Jason feel tactile and 'real', thankfully, Never Hike Alone does not fall into the trap of trying to make Jason feel like a real human being. No spoilers but this is the Jason Vorhees of the eighties, and DiSanti has a lot of fun playing off his superhuman abilities.
The biggest compliment I can pay this movie is that it worked on me, and I don't even like the Friday the 13th movies. This is the first time I have ever been scared of Jason, and it actually made me want to go back and watch more of the movies.
Honestly, you do not need a lot of history to get the pitch for this one. Never Hike Alone stands on its own as a genuinely scary movie in its own right. You can find the movie on Youtube here.