While it tries to masquerade as a horror film, Camp Hell is really a turgid drama about sin and temptation set at an Evangelical Christian camp. The film sat on a shelf for several years before it was unceremoniously dumped onto DVD. Camp Hell probably would have stayed on the shelf if not for the recent success of actor Jesse Eisenberg. The Social Network's star is only on screen for a couple of minutes, but Lionsgate was kind enough to plaster his name above the DVD's title, and his face nearly fills the entire front cover. But no star-baiting can hide that the film's conflict is laughable, that its pace is glacial, and that watching it is pretty much hell.
Teenager Tommy Leary (Will Denton) lives in a Christian covenant community and enjoys few modern pleasures. Tommy's dad (Andrew McCarthy) is a Bible-toting hard-ass who sends Tommy to Camp Hope (the film's original title), a Christian wilderness camp where Father Phineas McAllister (Bruce Davison) runs through a lengthy list of damnable offenses daily. Some campers are content to become more spiritual, but Tommy is plagued by disturbing, demonic visions. To make matters worse, Tommy irks his counselors by hanging with renegade Jack (Connor Paolo) and seductress Melissa (Valentina de Angelis).
By no means is Camp Hell a horror movie. Other than its few intense dream sequences, Camp Hell is not the Exorcist-in-the-woods I was expecting. Not much exciting happens during the film's 99 minutes, and a good 30 minutes are wasted transitioning Tommy from his home and into Camp Hope. The preview for Camp Hell is pretty misleading, but the studio's marketing department cannot take all the blame. The film actually dupes its audience into thinking it's a horror film, at least during its first half. Director George VanBuskirk shoots the action from the POV of an unseen menace in the woods, and there are plenty of breaking twigs and approaching footsteps to concern the characters. But, because the film drastically switches gears as it moves toward the finale, all these (un)scares are simply red herrings.
I think Camp Hell is supposed to be a condemnation of the Christian covenant communities and faith-based camps it depicts, or possibly even Evangelicalism as a whole. Camp Hell unsubtly drones on about purity and sin, and, on multiple occasions, Father McAllister asks Tommy how often he masturbates. Of course Tommy's midnight make-out session with Melissa must surely break a few camp rules. And Tommy's annoying, one-dimensional counselor (Christopher Denham) demonstratively rips up some comic books he finds in his cabin because they do not vibe well with his religion.
The big conflict here is that Tommy feels guilty because he doesn't believe the hokum about sin and damnation being shoved down his throat. He turns to Father McAllister for help, but McAllister has failed a doubting youth before (Eisenberg shows up in these flashbacks), and his aid is drastically misguided. If the final shot is any indication of Camp Hell's view on religion, then it's certainly not a positive one. The danger of uncompromising indoctrination is an interesting topic, but Camp Hell takes serious issues and makes them laughable. Stilted and boring, Camp Hell should have stayed in the can.
PICTURE AND SOUND:
The DVD's 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is largely unimpressive. Fine detail is minimal, and the entire image has a soft, blurry appearance. Sharpness is also weak, and the image is consistently flat and lifeless. Skin tones are accurate and blacks deep, but there is a fair amount of crush in nighttime scenes. Colors are understated, but a few flashes of crimson red and forest green spice up the proceedings. Compression noise and moderate edge enhancement also appear, and they give the film a slightly digital appearance. The film's 5.1 Dolby Digital surround track fares a bit better, but is never especially impressive. Dialogue is mostly clear, and there is minimal hiss on the track. Surround effects are sporadically present, as is ambient noise. The score is moderately robust. English and Spanish subtitles are also available.
The only extras are a couple of deleted scenes, the film's trailer and bonus previews.
Camp Hell is no horror film, but it is horribly boring and heavy-handed. A misguided commentary on the dangers of religious zealotry, Camp Hell quickly shoots itself in the foot by critically botching its analysis of the Evangelical communities and camps it portrays. Jesse Eisenberg is likely thrilled that his giant mug is plastered on the cover of a film in which he barely appears. Camp Hell is not even worth a rent. Skip It.
William lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.