Judge Joel Pearce hits for +4 lightning when he's drinking Mountain Dew.
Slay normalcy, save the world.
We might as well be up-front about one fact: there are few things as nerdy as LARPing (Live Action Role Playing). For the uninitiated, it's a lot like playing Dungeons and Dragons, but instead of sitting around a table in your mom's basement drinking Mountain Dew and rolling dice, you run around in the woods swinging padded sticks and dressing up like elves and lizards.
For the people who catch the LARPing bug, though, the game is much more than that. It's a social opportunity, it's a deeply involved community, and it's something to look forward to the rest of your boring, typical life. Monster Camp follows the story of the Seattle chapter of NERO, a game with many followers all over the world. It's a relatively small chapter, and director Cullen Hoback captures the members as they struggle towards a questionable future.
So begins a unique and entertaining documentary. Most of the time, the goal of Monster Camp is simply to revel in the joy of the game, showing how intensely these people get into the Nero experience. There's a more serious theme running underneath the fun, though, which is the real thesis of the documentary. Some of the young players haven't accomplished much in their real lives, content to slowly work on high school courses in their early 20s, play World of Warcraft, and look forward to the next game. The older players use it as a way to escape their own mundane jobs. Some bring their children along to make it more of a social event, but for most, it's simply an escape from the disappointments of everyday life.
Is the escape from reality healthy or safe? That's not really part of the role of this documentary. Much more interesting is the exploration of what happens when the game threatens to fall apart. The owner of the chapter chooses to back down, which might leave the group without a future. This causes massive waves in the community, as they all struggle to cope with the fact that their favorite hobby and only real social network is about to collapse. The climax and resolution of this event are both touching and ambiguous. It also adds some much-needed tension and suspense to the second half of the film.
In the end, I can only recommend Monster Camp to role playing fans and other serious nerds. Still, it has a heartfelt charm that I didn't expect to see from a documentary about live action role playing; a hobby that does, admittedly, make me smirk a little bit. I wish the best for these players as they rebuild the Seattle chapter, and I hope they get what they need from Nero.
The disc has been produced well. Although the image is non-anamorphic, the film looks as good as can be expected given its grassroots origins and the conditions under which it was shot. There isn't much in the way of special features, but director Cullen Hoback does give a commentary track to dig even deeper into this wacky world of gaming.
If you're a role player or hardcore gamer, Monster Camp will probably be an affirming experience. It would also be good viewing for bewildered family members of such nerds, as it might shed some light on why anyone would get so caught up in this kind of fantasy. For everyone else, it will probably hold little interest to you, much like the unimposing people who end up playing the game.
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