Monster Camp Movie Review

Monster Camp
Documentary, 90 min
Directed by Cullen Hoback
Hardacre: Friday, August 1, 6:00pm

For all the types of two types of people in this world, this documentary highlights possibly the most psychologically fascinating. 1) Those who escape their lives by socially acceptable methods (alcohol, affairs and pornography, to name a few) and 2) those who create character lives in fringe communities to LARP—Live Action Role Play. While the film centers on delving deep into the realm of the latter, most viewers will have known the former more intimately, which makes the subject perfect for a dynamically investigated shock doc.

Directed by Cullen Hoback, the film takes the viewer into two major events in the NERO Seattle universe. NERO is the live adventures company, according to its website, and the setting for the subjects’ characters in the film is a most appropriate Washington state park, where the players can imagine they are fighting right in the thick of Elwynn Forest. The references to and borrowed tactics from World of Warcraft (WoW) allow Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) gamers to feel in on the LARPing shibboleths, while giving them a safe distance from the handmade Halloweenish attire.

Just like some people prefer to play basketball rather than watching it from the stands, LARPers don the costumes and make-up to overcome the boredom of the sedentary, Doritos and Dew, all-night Dungeons & Dragons game session.  This is just one rationalization of many that LARPers choose to escape reality via this vehicle. With subtlety and sensitivity, the film shows outsiders finding friends, communities, and victories all humans need.

It would have been great to see more about how players take their characters too far in pursuit of a fucking cloudsong; merely gracing over when-fantasy-goes-too-far can leave the audience wondering. But it’s possible Hoback had to choose which depths to chase, and there’s plenty of psychological drama to keep the viewer enticed.

Some people reinvent themselves by moving to another city and telling different stories about themselves, and others partake in fantasy by putting “HRDROKR” vanity plates on a Toyota Corolla. This film wonderfully shows both reinvention and fantasy albeit a little more overtly—donning hoop-ringed hog snouts and tossing birdseed-filled spell casting packets. But just as wildflowers bloom from fallen and buried birdseed, the filmmaker successfully provides evidence of life planted at these NERO weekends. Beginners “die” less easily, losers finally win a fight or two in the fantasy, and the lonely leave the camp with a few more friends in the real world.