Published Oct 21, 2013Canadian director Isaac Cravit taps into isolation anxiety and the potent fear of nature's unknown vastness for this quaint but effective survival thriller. Taking the "guilt is an island" metaphor rather literally, Solo is set on a small landmass near a lakeside summer camp where seventeen year-old Gillian (Degrassi: The Next Generation's Annie Clark) is sent for two nights alone to complete her training as a camp counsellor.
She's taken on his particular job as a means of atoning for a tragedy she had some culpability in the previous summer, which is where the remorse factors in. This information we glean from a discussion with Gillian's off-screen therapist in the film's opening scene. From there we see our sad-eyed protagonist during an orientation meeting at camp. We get the lay of the land, meet a few suspicious characters and are introduced to a local legend about a missing camper that haunts the island all prospective counsellors must "solo" on to prove their worth.
Forbidden to take any extra supplies, distractions or communication devices, Gillian is dropped off with a tent, her backpack and a radio that's only to be used in emergencies. Succumbing to fear in the absence of a real threat is a sign of weakness that spells immediate dismissal, as is learned through gossip and reiterated by the alcoholic camp owner, Fred (Richard Clarkin), who also confides to Gillian that hers will be the last excursion on the island (he just inked paperwork selling the land to developers). This isn't knowledge that applies to or benefits her in any meaningful way but it does hint to the audience a little of what's about to unfold.
Quite quickly, Gillian is made aware that she's not really alone on the island and Isaac Cravit goes to great pains for the first half of the film to ensure that the audience has numerous options at which to direct their suspicions. Is the tale of the ghost real? Is the weird boy everyone calls "Martian" really a psycho killer? Is it his father, the drunken camp leader, or is it that helpful guy (Daniel Kash, Aliens) fishing nearby with his dog?
While we're guessing, Cravit gradually ratchets up the tension, bringing Gillian out of the meditative escape of nature and into the horror of being just another piece of prey in the wilderness. The director favours intimate shots at first, focusing on our heroine's wounded countenance and juxtaposing her small frame against the looming immensity of the forest, and as she's forced out of her own head by the life threatening circumstances, she finds herself in the camera begins to take on a more omniscient perspective.
Though it succumbs to some classic horror movie idiocy and isn't quite introspective enough to offset the lack of visceral thrills, Solo is a strong, consistently creepy effort. Should Isaac Cravit sharpen his writing to match the tasteful raw talent he displays behind the camera, his next project will be worth checking out. (Indiecan)