What do you do when the world you’re in is too boring, too stressful, or too miserable to endure? Come on, you know the answer. You retreat into your own imaginary world, of course. Some do it through some E, some do it through a bottle of Vodka, and some through live action role playing.
“Monster Camp” is one of the many documentaries taking off from the “Trekkies” and “Ringers” formula, in which we spend a time in the lives of folks who just love their hobby ad fanaticism, and Hoback pays them the proper respect for it.
Director Cullen Hoback, who created the utterly entertaining “Freedom State,” has a knack for depicting the odd and surreal individuals without taking away their dignity, and he does the same with “Monster Camp.” Hoback explores the role playing sequences with grown adults in costumes, and never once will you think “What freaks.”
Hoback is a director I’m slowly becoming a fan of, because when he’s on, he’s just on. “Freedom State” made being insane so damn fun and dared to challenge our perceptions of normality, and in “Monster Camp” he adds a sense of style to the folks of the Nero Franchise. He delves into their lives and never undermines their own obsession for the fantastic, and the weird.
Hoback chronicles the events of the Nero Franchise, a giant Live Action Role Playing (or L.A.R.P.ing) event in the vein of Civil War Re-enactments in which a large group of teenagers, adults, and hell even kids who participate to bond with their parents, travel to certain wooded parts of the country (there are different franchises all over the country) and take part in a grand fantasy role playing game for an entire weekend. Everyone is passionate about this game, and they should be, it looks like a lot of fun. And Hoback trails the group and its individual members as they gear up for another session and prepare to take on the undefeated grand champion, The Strega.
They don’t just dress in costumes and pretend to fight. There’s a massive rule book, spells, props, costumes, paints, a large retreat, rules, warnings of hypothermia, and the creators of this event even creates large replicas of dragons and monsters. The Nero Franchise takes its events seriously, and they encourage non-violent expressions of battles and fantasy. Swords are made of foam, monsters are simply folks painted up, and you can’t help but revel in their excitement.
But Hoback also doesn’t shy away from the ill effects of this obsession. Some of the players have lost relationships, are still in high school beyond their mandatory four years, and many of the people featured are addicted to “World of Warcraft,” and have admitted that it’s a dangerous hobby because of it’s high potential for complete obsession. And then there are some, like J.P., that have completely written off reality and just live their fantasy day in and day out. Yet, Hoback explores that some of these people need fantasy like others need religion. It just provides security.
With enough time, and proper distribution, “Monster Camp” will be as big a cult classic as “Trekkies,” and will open up many more people with large imaginations interested in the Nero franchise, and at the end of the day there’s simply nothing wrong with escapism on a healthy level. We all need to escape from time to time. Cullen Hoback pulls off another utterly odd and bittersweet film, and yet again makes out of the ordinary look so damn dignified.