Director: George Van Buskirk
Screenplay: George Van Buskirk
Producers: David Newman, Per Melita and Laylee Olfat
Starring: Will Denton, Bruce Davison, Andrew McCarthy, Dana Delany, Valentina de Angelis and Connor Paolo
Duration: 96 mins
Despite what the DVD cover image would want to try and make you believe Jesse Eisenberg has a very small role in the film (perhaps as much as three minutes total screen time) as a previously tormented individual who’s counselled by Fr. McAllister (Davison). It doesn’t take a great deal of thought to wonder why the producers plastered his image over the cover, in the wake of The Social Network’s success.
It took me a long time to decide whether Camp Hell was supposed to be serious or a spoof. It’s billed as a horror flick but falls far short of that tag. Neither is it a strictly ‘religious’ film as it doesn’t quite decide which side of the fence it wants to sit. What it is, though, is 96 minutes that I won’t get back.
It follows the story of Tommy (Denton) as he’s pushed by his fanatical parents (McCarthy and Delany) into going to Camp Hope – run by Fr. McAllister – for a summer of Christian Evangelicalism. And despite the demon-in-the-woods POV filming that happens and the ‘exorcist in the wilderness’ atmosphere it tries to create, there isn’t any such thing: it’s all set-up with no punch line. The boys at camp engage in spiritual discussions and religious dogma whereas the girls at camp only appear to serve as fulfilling the age-old Christian attitude that females are devil-led temptresses and whores whose sole purpose is to lead men of pure heart astray. Fr. McAllister actually calls Melissa (de Angelis) a “tramp and a whore” for talking to Tommy away from the others. Stereotypical claptrap and sloppy writing.
The DVD cover suggests that the story is “inspired by true events” and a graphic at the end of the film states “based on true events” – what I take from that is that some Christians have gone to summer camp and had doubts/conflicts over their religion and thought they were persecuted by the devil. Yawn.
The opening half-an-hour is just setting up Tommy’s arrival at the camp and the pace doesn’t get any faster from that point. I’ve seen the pace described elsewhere as “glacial”, which is over-selling it. Tommy is smitten with fellow camp member Melissa which doesn’t go down well with Fr. McAllister and secures Tommy’s place in Hell. Allegedly. The storyline is trite and hackneyed with the resolution not even worth bothering with.
Davison has some good films under his belt but this isn’t one of them. I suspect that he concentrated on the mortgage being paid and focussed on that. Can’t blame him, I suppose. My biggest disappointment, though, is that Andrew McCarthy seems to have been relegated to small ancillary roles like this over the last few years. He’s worth far more than that. He gives a strength and presence to the screen but, of late, appears to be only capable of getting roles like this for some reason. Shame.
Camp Hell is released on DVD 26th December. It’s not the perfect Christmas gift.
Review by Andy Goodman