Camp Hell (2010): Out now on DVD
(15) Running time: 99 minutes
Director: George VanBuskirk
Writer: George VanBuskirk
Starring: Dana Delany, Andrew McCarthy, Caroline London, Bruce Davison
Reviewed by: Matt Wavish, official HCF critic
Camp Hell (or Camp Hope to use its original title) is the film Jesse Eisenberg is suing over the use of his face prominent on the poster and DVD artwork. It is a fair point I guess since he is only in the film for five minutes, but I think the main reason is that he does not want his reputation ruined by this awful film. I reckon he was hoping this film would get released and no one would ever watch it or know he was in it. Too late! Apart from how bad this film is, there are other things going against it too, the fact it has been marketed as a horror and even the title change from Camp Hope to Hell, shows nobody really knew what to do with this. The fact is has been sitting on the shelves for some two or three years also indicates no one had any belief that this film was worth releasing. It should have stayed on those shelves, or been marketed differently.
Jesse Eisenberg’s brief cameo is of a troubled youngster in a psychiatric ward, Father Phineas McAllister (Bruce Davison) visits him but cannot help him, and so the youngster sort of curses the Priest, and supposedly bad things will happen. The Priest goes about his usual business of running a summer camp for young Christians, called Camp Hope, this is a spiritual retreat where teens can be taught the ways of Christianity. The plot is based on the writer/director’s own experiences, and had this film been marketed as a drama it may have worked as an unsettling portrayal of how people can be brainwashed. Every little piece of what we would call normal behaviour, like reading comic books, is met with the fear of being punished by God or allowing the Devil into your life. Some poor lad even has sex before marriage and is terrified of what might become of him. Girls and boys are separated, and any hint of a relationship is met with Father McAllister stepping in to stop it.
However, McAllister has a problem; it would appear the curse put on him is allowing The Devil into his life, and into his camp. The film moves at an uncomfortable and anger inducing slow pace, with some of the worst music you will ever hear in a film and characters are built up and never really developed. It seems the director just didn’t know what to do with his film, and wanders off with side plots that never really go anywhere. In fact, nothing really goes anywhere and you would be excused for turning this film off. It is awful, and it is a shame because the cast (most of them) actually do an alright job with the crap they have to work with. The promise of some real horror building never actually happens, and you cannot help but feel very let down because some of the horror moments are presented very well. A number of people begin to start seeing things, images of something dark in the shadows, and the sound effects are superb and unsettling. However, it all stays in the shadows and never comes out, so nothing ever truly scares you. One scene involving an image of a face is very impressive, and it is moments like this which irritate even more. Why? Because it shows the director does have some skill, but he is too busy getting his message across about religious mumbo jumbo and babblings of a Priest who wants to set his ‘children’ on the right path.
There is far too much attempt at a meaning here, and the film is over-stretched and painfully tries to fill its running time. I have read many reviews who claim this film would have worked better as a short, and I have to agree. It feels the director was out of his depth and just had no idea how to put his story together. We are left with a complete mess; it leads nowhere and delivers nothing apart from the odd glimpse of skill. A film that should be avoided at all costs, sent to Hell and burned.