Listen, I know. I say, "Friday the 13th fan film" and you stop listening. But Vincente DiSanti’s Never Hike Alone is a Friday the 13th fan film that’s good enough to play a respected horror festival, and it’s more than earned its place here alongside more traditional studio fare.
The premise is great, a take on the found footage Jason movie we’ve long been threatened with that actually works. Drew Leighty plays Kyle McLeod, a wilderness vlogger who’s recording his hike through uncharted trails in the Catskills. The film switches from Kyle’s self-recorded videos to typical narrative with ease, freeing up the structure while still offering the (affordable) intimacy of found footage. Kyle, naturally, finds his way to an abandoned camp, and long before he’s uncovered the rotting Camp Crystal Lake sign, the audience is already giddy with anticipation.
Much of the film is a quiet, stalking showdown between Kyle and Jason, focusing all of our interest and hopes on one great character. Kyle’s no wimp - he chops his own wood, sews up his own wounds, keeps his cool when he hears a pack of coyotes circling his tent. He’s strong, and he’s charismatic. We like him, and we want him to survive, and we believe he can survive because he’s so tough. So as Jason shadows him, nearer and more ominous with every passing minute, the suspense almost becomes too much to handle.
And here, Jason feels just right. Played by DiSanti himself, with the stunts performed by Bryan Forrest, he’s this perfect plodding, hulking menace, silent and inexorable. He and Kyle feel well-matched, a true legend and foil instead of the more typical predator and prey.
And the performances aren’t the only thing that make Never Hike Alone a real movie. It looks great, very polished and expensive. Much of that is due to the incredible location of the film. DiSanti found an abandoned camp in San Bernardino National Forest, and it’s an astonishing fit, the kind of kismet that feels like it’s blessed this project from the beginning. The running time is 55 minutes, and though that may sound like an awkward length, it’s actually perfect - long enough to truly involve us, but short enough to keep us from ever losing interest in such a straightforward premise. The editing, by Sarah D. Cole, is tight, and the film feels as trim as possible, not a superfluous moment. (There’s also an extended tag with a thrilling cameo, but I’ll save that for viewers to discover for themselves.)
And most importantly, this 55-minute Friday the 13th fan film is scary. I found myself legitimately nervous at moments, and actually jumped at one memorable grab that DiSanti said during the Q&A is a moment straight from his childhood nightmares of Jason. And therein is what makes Never Hike Alone so successful - it’s the well-made product of someone who truly loves, understands and fears Jason Voorhees. And when you watch it, you’ll fear him, too.
Never Hike Alone arrived on YouTube yesterday, Friday the 13th. Watch it right here, right now!