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Featured DVD Review: Camp Hell

August 7th, 2011

Camp Hell - Buy from Amazon

Camp Hell, or Camp Hope as it was originally called, was filmed in 2007 and only got a token limited release in 2010, but it is finally getting a DVD release this week. Besides the name change, the film has a new poster, which prominently features Jesse Eisenberg, who is in the movie, but is not the star of the movie. That's not a good sign and raises the possibility that this film is only coming out due to that actor's recent success. Is that the case? Or does it work on its own regardless of the marketing shenanigans?

The Movie

The film starts with an intercard talking about "covenant community" and the solemn oaths they take. The film is going the "Inspired by true events." route, which is also a warning sign.

After that, we meet the Leary family, Patricia and Michael, plus their two kids, Tommy (Will Denton) and Rose (Caroline London). They are praying to save their grandfather from purgatory and after a short discussion of purgatory that ends with Rose saying Tommy's going to Hell because he has a girlfriend. That night, Tommy has a nightmare about being buried alive, but it could have more to do with his choice of bedtime reading material, "Dante's Inferno".

The next day, Father Phineas McAllister meets with Daniel Jacobs, a member of the covenant who is in a mental hospital. Despite Father McAllister's offer to help, Daniel is convinced he is damned to hell and that Father McAllister has failed as a priest. After Daniel gives McAllister an ominous warning, he leaves.

We then move to Camp Hope, a Christian summer camp where young boys and girls learn to become closer to God. They do so by living under strict rules and avoiding all outside influence. This means no Rock 'n' Roll, no comic books, and especially no romantic entanglements. This is a big problem for Tommy, who has feelings for Melissa (Valentina de Angelis). All the fire and brimstone talk can't change his feelings, but it does send him into a depression. The nightmares he's having are not helping. But are these the usual teenage hormones, or is something more at work here?

If you've seen Jesus Camp, you will recognize the setting for Camp Hell, and for the vast majority of the movie, that's all you'll see. It's a coming of age drama about a boy dealing with a repressive religious upbringing that is at odds with his rather benign romantic feelings for a fellow camper. It's only till the final 20 minutes or so that anything remotely supernatural happens. If you go into the movie expecting a horror film, you will likely be very disappointed. If you go in expecting a more psychological drama with heavy religious imagery, there will be more to keep your attention. Even then, the film has pacing issues and it moves far too slowly to be engaging.

It would have been better if it delved more into the relationship between Father Phineas McAllister and Daniel Jacobs. Or it it had explored the psychological damage done by filling a confused kid's head with images of eternal torment, and the tragedy that came as a result. Then show how that pattern was repeating with Tommy. Obviously that was part of the story, but if they focused more on that and less on the less believable supernatural element, it could have been a better movie. Or they could have gone full bore with the Demonic possession and introduced elements of that right from the beginning. But with a $3 million budget, it might have been a lot harder to get that option right.

The Extras

There are three deleted scenes with a total running time of five minutes. It's not a lot, but that's better than many lower budget horror films have on their DVDs.

The Verdict

Camp Hell has a potentially interesting premise and some better than expected acting, but the execution is weak and the result is not what the marketing promised. I do like the mixture of orthodox religious views and supernatural horror, but there's not enough of the latter to justify the slow pace when the movie focuses on the former. The DVD does have some extras, but unless are a fan of this sub-genre, it's barely worth a rental. Even then, get a back up, just in case.

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Filed under: Video Review, Camp Hell