Dead of Summer: Modern Love – A Sleepaway Camp Remix (Review)


Last week saw Amy struck by lightning and Cricket being (wrongfully) targeted by the Satanists. On Dead of Summer “Modern Love” the focus is on Drew and his backstory. In a move that feels very much like a remix of  the 1983 cult classic Sleepaway Camp, Drew is  transgender in the late ’80s.

(“Sleepaway Camp,” starring a very young Felissa Rose featured a character who was also trapped in the wrong body…but with disastrous consequences for their fellow campers.)

This 1980s redux has chosen to mimic horror  films from that time period but has omitted the slasher element from “Friday the 13th” and “Sleepaway Camp.” (And many other popular slasher films from that time period.)  The threat in this series is a demon who  apparently lives in the lake beside Camp Stillwater.  Tony Todd, who plays a ghostly and vengeful character has yet to be identified as a cohort to the watery evil threatening the camp counselors.

“Modern Love” however is less about the lake and the demon than it is about Drew. The kid who grew up being called Andrea and was made to wear dresses. The child that knew before puberty that “she” was a boy grew up to  have  some pretty heavy emotional baggage.  As a kid  Andrea listens to David Bowie (who was the poster child for sexual ambiguity at the start of his career) and has a British flag on the wall of his bedroom.

He also has mother who, somewhat unsurprisingly in the ’80s,  is in complete denial; at first. Later the woman deserts her son Drew, literally moving house while the kid is at school.  It is laudable that the series creators developed a transgender character. However, the fact that Drew is gay also feels like they are trying too hard.

In some ways it feels like the punchline to a joke, in poor taste, that would terrify any ’80s parent. Somewhat akin the tasteless gag about  a husband being told that his wife has given birth to a five pound eye. “Oh my God,” shrieks the husband, “What could be worse?”
“It’s blind,” is the doctor’s deadpan reply.

In Dead of Summer, it is as though Drew’s mother is in the shoes of the husband. “Oh my God. My daughter is a boy. What could be worse…He’s gay.”

(Not personally having any experience of the transgender community,  apart from supporting their issues,  I have no idea whether such a thing is possible  in this area. Anyone who does know, please respond in the comments section.  Am I being unfair to the show’s creators in this regard? Are they trying too hard?)

While Drew is haunted by his younger self,  wearing a dress and carrying a red balloon, (shades of M. Night Shyamalan) he also has to deal with his attraction to the only gay counsellor at the camp; Blair.  Later, when he confesses to Ramos that he used to be Andrea the young man leaves in distress.

Apart from the Drew storyline, Deb and Joel  act out their “The Graduate” scenario in the woods while Sykes searches for them both. Cricket and Alex go to Carpenter’s cabin and find the mask seen in Cricket’s dream. (Amusingly, the couple both manage to fit under Deb’s bed when she returns with Joel.)

Jessie, Styles and Amy

Styles finds Amy standing in the shallow part of the lake. A huge clawed hand reaches for her and retreats when the cop shows up. After kissing him she wakes from some sort of somnambulistic state. The Satanists are very pleased at this turn of events.

By the end of the episode, Drew turns to Jessie for comfort after Blair reacts so badly to her news.

Dead of Summer has characters who are aware that something is amiss at Camp Stillwater. Visions and bad dreams (as well as Cricket’s stolen boots) are putting everyone on edge. Although Joel is too preoccupied with his crush on older woman Deb to notice much of anything. (He actually brings up Jason – Friday the 13th – being struck by lightning while Amy is recovering from being struck.)

While the storylines are interesting the series has a very low body count – one – and the suspense is moving at a snail’s pace.  Foreboding only goes so far and thus far the show is, as the British say, “All shirt and no trousers.”

That being said, Zelda Williams is killing it as Drew Reeves and her character’s backstory was interesting even if the mother moving out did also feel a little like a bad joke.

Dead of Summer airs Tuesdays on Freeform.


Author: Mike's Film Talk

Former Actor, Former Writer, Former Journalist, USAF Veteran, Former Member Nevada Film Critics Society

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