A group of suburban New Jersey kids are sent to Camp Hope (the original title for the film) deep in some woods in a bid to learn how better to serve their strictly observed Christian faith. Here, the girls wear long skirts, the boys adopt smart slacks and youth culture of any kind is not permitted. But being normal teens, their hormones are raging and while they listen to sermon after sermon about being tortured by demons for all eternity if they fail to remain chaste, one youngster Tommy (Fright Night‘s Will Denton) finds himself falling for one of the happy clappers.
But the camp’s leader, the persuasive Father Phineas McAllister (Bruce Davison), puts the fear of God in Tommy as he continues his fire and brimstone tirade that the devil is always looking for a chance to pounce. Soon poor Tommy is hearing demonic growls in the woods and seeing moving statues and mysterious pools of blood.
In flashback, we learn that another of McAllister’s flock, Daniel (30 Minutes or Less‘s Jesse Eisenberg, who gets star billing despite only having a cameo) ended up in a mental hospital when he thought he was possessed and attempted to kill his sister. Having failed Daniel, McAllister doesn’t want to make the same mistake with Tommy.
But is it an actual demonic presence at work or just a psychological manifestation of these kids’ fears about losing their faith in God? The director George VanBuskirk, who draws on his own experiences at faith camp as a teen, lets us decide.
If you don’t approach Camp Hell as an all-out supernatural horror but as a coming-of-age drama, you’ll find that it’s an unusually clever exploration of teenage hormonal desires clashing with faith. It also masks a cautionary tale about imposing our wills on vulnerable children.