Across the country, proud misfits gather in wooded areas, football fields and other public places to create real-life costumed fantasies where elves, orcs, knights, wizards and other Dungeons and Dragons/World of Warcraft-inspired creatures interact, adventure and, most importantly, battle to the “death.” These are LARPers, an acronym for Live-Action Role Players, and their weekend warrior escapes have been surprisingly well documented in recent cinema — first in the 2006 film, Darkon, and now in Monster Camp from Portland, Oregon-based independent filmmaker Cullen Hoback.
While the subject is fascinating, does the world really need more than one documentary on LARPing? Yes. Together, Darkon and Monster Camp offer a complete picture of the game and its players — the former with its focus on the intensities, rivalries and battlefield action; the latter with its spotlight on the camaraderie, characters and the lighter side of the chaotic choreography. The Monster Camp oddballs, who play outside of Seattle, are an infectious bunch ranging from veteran to nervous neophyte. Regardless of rank, all are self-aware enough not to take the game (or themselves) too seriously, even though it’s an obvious escape for many from life’s cruel realities. It would have been easy for Hoback to be condescending or judgmental, but he avoids both in his profiles of the players and in the details of the preparations, action and drama behind the scenes and on the battlefield. Instead, he laughs along with the Monster Campers, not at them, creating a film as wild and free as the imaginations within its seams. Grade: B