Review: Camp Hell

Aka: Camp Hope
DVD review (region 2)
Directed by George VanBuskirk
Starring Will Denton, Dana Delany, Andrew McCarthy, Bruce Davison, Jesse Eisenberg, Valentina de Angelis
Release date 26 December 2011

Troubled teen Tommy Leary (Denton) has suffered from nightmares ever since his much-loved grandpa died. When he arrives at the annual summer Christian camp, things only get worse. Soon he’s being plagued by demonic visions – visions that are exacerbated by his sexual longing for co-camper Melissa (de Angelis). And the visions threaten to spill over into the real world…

Camp Hell is a film with an identity crisis. It was originally made in 2007 under the far less horror fan-friendly moniker of Camp Hope, a title that reflects the fact that this is largely a psychological drama (possibly with a religious bent, possibly with an anti-religious bent, it’s difficult to tell) about a teen torn between faith and his sexual awakening. But these themes are combined with horror trappings – a Crystal Camp-esque setting, demons, heavy-breathing forces in the bushes – that don’t quite fit with the drama.

Presumably realising they were saddled with a movie of limited appeal, it’s now been repackaged as Camp Hell and marketed as a straightforward horror. While George VanBuskirk’s film does muster a few creepy moments (a demonic visage appearing in reflection, campers coughing up blood, bloodied doves under a pillow), it’s far too slow and bloodless to hold much appeal for fans of slasher or Satan flicks.

Nevertheless, there’s a half-interesting story here about how diffident and increasingly disturbed teen Tommy (an excellent Denton) tries to suppress his inner feelings to please his fundamentalist parents (a slightly hammy McCarthy and Delany) and sin-obsessed preacher Father Phineas (Davison).

While the weird, slow-burning atmosphere suits the events of the first half of the film, VanBuskirk eventually loses control of both story and tone. It culminates in an unsatisfying conclusion makes little sense. Like all horror films nowadays, it’s “based on true events”.

Watch out for Jesse Eisenberg in a cameo as Father Phineas’s disturbed former follower. The actor subsequently sued Lionsgate for pretending he was the main star, with Eisenberg’s mug appearing prominently on much of the early publicity. But what’s the point of having a big-name cameo if you’re not going to milk it to death, right? Matt McAllister

VERDICT: 5/10

A muddled quasi-horror with some interesting themes.

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