09th Dec2011

‘Camp Hell’ Review

by Paul Metcalf

Stars: Dana Delany, Andrew McCarthy, Caroline London, Will Denton, Bruce Davison, Jesse Eisenberg, Connor Paolo | Written and Directed by George VanBuskirk

Camp-Hell-Jesse

When reviewing a movie about a Christian summer camp and you are an atheist it’s quite an interesting prospect really. You have to try not to judge the characters for their beliefs and you have to try and watch it as a film where the events are affected by their religion, not your own beliefs. Or of course you can beat your chest as a disbeliever and pour scorn on the people in the movie for being silly for believing in something you do not. For me I went for what I saw was the fairer view and went with their belief system.

This is the story of ultra-Christianity in some respect. When Tommy goes to Christian camp he’s already having a crisis of faith. This does not bode well for him in a camp where they are forming young minds to become good Christians where they are told if they sin they will burn in hell. Even for Christians this place is fairly extreme. Tommy of course breaks the rules and is made to pay, so are others as it seems there is an evil in the camp that is praying on the minds of people who have even the smallest crisis of faith and as it uses Will to tear the small groups faith apart it is not only events in the present that are brought to a head but the events from the past where we learn the priest in control maybe the real frailty within the camp.

One of the problems with this film is the most interesting thing right now does not actually happen on the screen, it’s heading for the court room. Jesse Eisenberg star of films like Zombieland and The Social Network is not happy about publicity of this film. His face is plastered on the posters making it look like he’s a big part of the film. Fact is he’s in about five minutes of it if that. The rest of the film is put onto the shoulders of Will Delton as Tommy. He does a good job of carrying the film and is the more interesting character. The Jesse Eisenberg’s character is just a crazy kid in an insane asylum who was sent crazy by the priest who was trying to “help” him. He’s the failure that drives the priest to try and save people like Will, to try and make sure he does not lose another Christian soul.

Some people may like Camp Hell but I found it to be quite confusing at times. On one side it’s a movie that appears to try and show how religious camps of these camps can be dangerous to children and how it’s an attempt to brainwash them with extremeness. Then in a twist it tries to show that there are “demons” in the world trying to weaken the kids so everything the priest says about weakness and sin must be true, they should be listening to him. This confuses the message the film is trying to give and damages it as a whole.

It’s arguable that for about two thirds of Camp Hell is quite enjoyable but as it tries to head into its final act and become more sensationalist in its style and it loses its focus. As it goes for the easy option with demonic imagery and defacing of religious symbols to get a reaction it’s almost as if the film forgot what it was arguing before and now tries to twist everything to argue that the rest of the movie was just wrong anyway. Then of course it fails in this leaving the watcher confused as to what was even going on in the first place. What could have been a good attempt at looking how extreme religion can damage the message that is being preached in the first place goes for the easy option and heads back into the easy world of throwing demonic imagery at us to show how evil the world can be for the teenagers who need to be taught what is wrong and right. An interesting attempt but just a shame the finale can’t live up to the suggested premise.

Camp Hell is in limited release across the UK now and hits DVD on December 26th, courtesy of Metrodome.

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