Camp Hell DVD Review
Written and Directed by George VanBuskirk
2010, Region 2 (PAL), 99 minutes, Rated 15 (UK)
DVD released on 26th December 2011
Dana Delany as Patricia Leary
Andrew McCarthy as Michael Leary
Caroline London as Rose Leary
Will Denton as Tommy Leary
Bruce Davison as Fr. Phineas McAllister
Juliana Monin as Receptionist
Jesse Eisenberg as Daniel
Premarital intercourse isn't limited to Camp Crystal Lake, but when you do it at Bible camp, the results are far more insidious. Devilish evil invades an American Bible camp, feeding off the Catholic guilt of confused young Tommy Leary, exacerbated by the unhelpful rhetoric of Father Phineas McAllistar.
Camp Hell (sometimes also marketed as the slightly more fitting Camp Hope) is a subtle, slow and classy supernatural thriller that will confuse many who approach it expecting an 80s' style slasher throwback full of gore and nudity. The closest to gore in Camp Hell is in seeing a kid's gums bleed and a fight scene where a camp counseller gets punched in the face. The closest to nudity comes during a bit in which young Melissa lifts her skirt to go wading in a lake. Camp Hell is more about mind games, internal torment and the power of guilt. It's like Lucky McKee's Bruce Campbell feature The Woods crossed with The God Delusion.
A very brief cameo from Jesse Eisenberg sets the tone. He's a disturbed young man, imprisoned in a mental institution, tortured by his own guilt, flailing faith and deep confusion. We're led to believe that Father McAllistar and his Catholicism is to blame. Whatever it is, it's catching. Fellow Catholic Tommy Leary is experiencing similar symptoms; visions, nightmares and a crisis of faith. The fact that he takes Dante's Divine Comedy as bedtime reading can't help either. He arrives at summer camp, which his parents hope will “make him a man” under the tuition of the religious camp counsellors and stern Father McAllistar. No drugs or premarital sex for these kids. Sinful jelly beans and Spawn comics are confiscated, whilst they spend the days listening to lengthy sermons on the dangers of masturbating. There's a lot of masturbation talk at Bible camp. God really doesn't like masturbating.
But where there are hormones there will be sex. Tommy hooks up with crush Melissa and they engage in some woodland nookie. It looks a lot like dry-humping, but it's enough to get Melissa expelled and Tommy on extended mop duties. His pent-up guilt is driving him crazy, as the visions worsen and strange things start happening around camp. Someone trashes the Church. The girls all experience shared nightmares. A mysterious figure stalks the shadows. Is this demonic possession? An angry Richard Dawkins? Is Tommy going mad? Camp Hell won't say for sure, but it's definitely religion's fault.
Whilst very interesting thematically, Camp Hell is a little too slow-paced for its own good. There's a central argument that religion is a bad thing, but it takes far too long to get there. Fans of religious commentary may enjoy its dissection of faith, but many will be bored. However, the script is frequently amusing and the characters rounded and sympathetic. Especially good is Bruce Davison as Father McAllistar and Christopher Denham as square camp counsellor Christian. Together they steal the film. Jesse Eisenberg is limited to two scenes and delivers a very typical Eisenberg performance, all massive hair and neuroses.
Camp Hell is a good film, but too much of it feels like long-winded lecture.
Video, Audio and Special Features:
Not graded as this was a screener.