Too often the term “fan film” has carried a negative connotation and more often than not, that negativity is correct. It’s easy to be a fan of a popular property or franchise and with technology growing every day, anyone can pick up a go-pro or iphone and start shooting their love letter to their favorite IP without really considering just how difficult an undertaking it is to balance fandom and craft. Never Hike Alone, a fan film set in the Friday the 13th universe, is one of the sterling examples of getting absolutely everything right and setting a standard for every other fan film to follow.
Director Vincente DiSanti’s Never Hike Alone follows Kyle (Drew Leighty), a YouTube-esque hiking channel host, as he makes his way through the wilderness of Essex County and inevitably finds himself in the long abandoned remains of camp Crystal Lake and running afoul of Jason Voorhees himself. To say much more about the plot would be doing it a disservice and at a brisk 53 minutes (a runtime that seemed to fly by) you owe it to yourself to discover the finer details on your own. What I can dote on is how pitch perfect everything about this film feels. Until the last few minutes of the runtime, Drew Leighty carries the weight of the material on his more than capable shoulders. He is a one man show (when he isn’t facing off against Jason) and he easily balances humor and humanity, fast paced action and heart pounding horror.
DiSanti himself pulls double duty as not only director but as Voorhees too. That’s an incredibly tall order but he pulls it off with ease. His turn as the killer is menacing and unstoppable and manages to add a grace and litheness to the phenom that has never really existed before. DiSanti’s Voorhees is agile and along with his signature stealthiness, creates a new and chilling combination. He also manages to breathe new life into the design of Jason from the mask to the horrible visage underneath. It was a breathtaking moment to see Jason lose his mask and I stopped to rewind those few seconds more than once.
Having great performances (and one mind blowing cameo) can take a fan film a long way but it’s what it does differently that set it apart. DiSanti doesn’t bother with trying to recreate the palette and soundscape of the F13 films that have come before. His reliance on a variety of cinematography ranging from aerial to go pro as well as thoughtful shots and set ups honestly puts this effort not only above other fan films but also above other F13 films. Sweeping landscape shots give way to breakneck action tableaus with ethereal fever dreams peppered in. I guarantee you’ve never seen anything like this in franchise offering. The same can be said of the sound design. Gone are the orchestral pieces and signature “Ki Ki Ki’s” you’ve come to expect from Friday and instead there is a modern approach with only references to those classic tropes here and there.
We have passed the longest point in the franchise’s history between sequels or installments. Rights issues have thrown Jason and Crystal Lake into legal limbo and have left fans salivating for a return to Camp Blood. Well, that return is here. Never Hike Alone is among the finest horror offerings this year, is the absolute best fan film I have ever seen and deserves to stand shoulder to shoulder with the other films in the franchise. Vincente DiSanti is a name to watch out for (as is Leighty for that matter) and I cannot wait to see what he delivers next.
The film is available to stream free right here.