Thrill is gone, but Sombrio-filmed movie out at last

Thousands of campers are descending on Island beaches this B.C. Day long weekend, but Rob Willey won’t be among them. Even so, Sombrio Beach will be in the Victoria-based musician and filmmaker’s thoughts.

Four years after he began shooting Dark Cove there, his micro-budget wilderness thriller is being released Tuesday on iTunes, Shaw On Demand, Bell Satellite TV, GooglePlay, Amazon, X-Box and other platforms.

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Willey directed the film from a screenplay he co-wrote with his father, Dennis. It focuses on five 20-somethings whose camping trip turns into a struggle for survival after they encounter a hard-partying Brit and two Australian surfers. Humour gives way to horror in what Willey describes as “Clerks meets Deliverance.”

The movie’s poster — featuring the words “Sex. Drugs. Murder… Wanna Go Camping?” and an image of an axe-wielding shadowy figure — pretty much sums up what lies ahead.

“Never again!” said Willey, recalling his experiences filming at the gorgeous but remote beach, long a magnet for surfers, squatters and free-spirited souls.

It’s not that Willey and his collaborators didn’t love the place. But having to lug gear through the wilderness after traversing a bumpy 2.8-kilometre access road off Highway 14 to reach the beach trail was something of a horror show in itself.

“We finished a lot of it at French Beach because Sombrio was so hard, with no running water or electricity,” he said. “We learned the hard way about filmmaking in remote locations.”

Dark Cove, made for a paltry $30,000, was filmed in fits and starts, with the sunny Sombrio shoot followed by filming at other locations a year later, and post-production costs generated through fundraisers.

A group campsite on French Beach became a production hub. The filmmakers also shot at the Old Spaghetti Factory restaurant, where castmates, like their characters, worked as waiters or bartenders.

Despite the physical challenges of shooting on Sombrio, where they encountered Preacher Bob, one of the original Sombrio squatters, Willey said B.C. Parks staff didn’t give them much grief.

“They were pretty cool,” said the Vic High grad, who is also frontman for indie pop-rock band Engine.

“They were mainly concerned about us keeping it clean, and our crew was so small and inconspicuous we didn’t come off as a big production.”

The reason it took so long to release the film was a combination of running out of money for post-production and the challenges of arranging theatrical distribution for a small Canadian film.

With distribution models having changed dramatically in the interim, Willey decided to pursue what has become common — a release across major digital download and streaming platforms.

His next project will be a different animal altogether.

“We won’t be camping,” Willey said with a laugh. He tailored the screenplay to his new film’s principal location — horse stunt co-ordinator Danny Virtue’s Virtue Studio Ranch in Mission.

“It’s more of a Horse Whisperer style of movie.”

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