Let’s get this straight out. Camp Hell is not a horror movie (originally called Camp Hope).
Had I known that, I probably wouldn’t have bothered. I was expecting something trashy and ridiculous. What I got was just ridiculous.
There is a message in the movie. It is an anti-fundamentalist message. Truly it is. Most are perhaps not going to recognize this fact.
In essence, it is the story of a kid at religious camp who is dealing with some disturbing demonic visitations. This demon manages to fuck some people up.
However, there is no real demon. This is a psychological thriller that explores the impact of extremism and how that extremist philosophy, hammered home at every point to those involved, can twist the mind and create a disturbing culture of fear and terror.
In the end, the kid manages to walk away. Choosing “not to believe” because “it’s too horrible”. Or some nonsense.
The constant declarations of sin and loss of soul from everything, including comic books and going all the way to healthy teen-aged exploration, drives the camp community over the brink. To quote the priest, “The sin remains if you do not confess.” Which allows the demon beast to enter and steal your soul. Naturally. And you thought that Archie comic was harmless!
This story is alleged to be based on true events. This is another fact that would have steered me clear. I didn’t receive this information until the movie was over and it scrolled past my screen after the usual credits (I bet you thought I never even bothered to watch all the credits!)
Supposedly, the “based on” community is the People of Hope. I don’t know anything about this community and I really don’t need to.
Point is, the kid has a crisis and emerges from it in the end.
The movie is not a propaganda piece for extreme religious views, though it certainly can feel like it at times. The deeper meaning is likely just not worth the effort for most viewers.
There is nothing especially bad about the film. It’s just another film. One I wasn’t prepared to watch. One that I typically wouldn’t watch.
The cast boasts Dana Delany, Andrew McCarthy, Bruce Davison (always a decent creep, though really, his character doesn’t truly fit that bill here), Connor Paolo (of Gossip Girl fame), and Jessie Eisenberg (though very, very briefly…don’t be fooled by any marketing that seems to indicate otherwise…he, in fact, sued over the false indication that he was the lead role).
This sort of cast seemed like it might make sitting through it worthwhile. It didn’t help. Delany and McCarthy are not central to the movie and do not appear on film very much at all. Davison does a good job, as does Paolo and the real lead, Will Denton. It just isn’t enough.
What paranormality or demonic activity does occur is the result of what can best be described as Mass delusion (get it?). At least, from the perspective of the kid. If you asked the priest, he would say otherwise. If he could.
It is a potentially interesting film if you care to think about such issues. If not, you will be greatly disappointed by the lack of resemblance to an actual horror movie.
Regardless of intent and meaning, the film is often choppy and follows a rather unnecessarily meandering path.
Watch it only when you are comfortably aware of what you are getting yourself into. Otherwise, you most certainly will end up in Movie Hell.
- Jesse Eisenberg Beats Lionsgate in Round One of ‘Camp Hell’ DVD Lawsuit (jgehrke.typepad.com)
- Judge Rules That Eisenberg Lawsuit Against Lionsgate May Proceed (lawprofessors.typepad.com)