I've always loved camp films. I think I can trace the unusual joy I get when watching these flicks, back to the first camp film I had ever seen. "Ernest Goes To Camp" was pure joy back in it's day. Silly, joyous and meaningful. Well... maybe not so much meaningful, but it had fun and silly up the wazoo. Ever since I had that first camp film under my belt, I've loved these things. The sillier the better. By no means am I saying "Camp Manna" is any form of Ernest P Worrell clone, yet they do have a similar feel - and there's nothing wrong with that. This film, written and directed by Eric Scott Johnson and Eric Machiele, is definitely fun and silly. It's also a camp film, and is full of crazy characters and weird situations. However, this film also has a string of seriousness running through it. Nothing enough to halt that awesome feeling of joy I had while watching, but enough to ground this movie and add that hint of realism. When it's all said and done, I truly enjoyed my time here. I believe most people will share my beliefs.
Having had a devastating religious experience prior to the film, our young hero Ian is crushed when sent off to a Christian camp for a week - to gain some religious perspective. The crown jewel of this camp are the God Games. A set of challenges that this year, offers a two year scholarship to a Christian college. Although a camp based on religious teachings, the youth and adults are just plain crazy. The kids are just as you'd expect from a film like this. The cool group and the loser brigade - or the hot topics and the underdogs if you prefer a different stereotype. "Camp Manna" focuses on the challenges of the week and some slight character development. Obviously, this is all done with comedy... and if you love these camp styled films as much as me... you're going to love it.
So let me be honest. This isn't a new concept. Everyone going into this film will have a pretty good idea of what's going to happen. Being equally honest? That's one of the great things about this movie. It plays on that familiar feeling and embraces it. A smart move. Why? Because it washes over any potential flaws with the film - not that I found any worth mentioning. "Camp Manna" is like comfort food. You love it because you know it. It's both that complex... and that simple.
The other thing to note is that this film is a religion movie. There is a message. The interesting part is how Johnson and Machiela have fun with the Christian concepts. At times, the movie pokes a little fun at it's religious roots - and the silly antics and situations will appeal to any non believer who watches. But at the same time there is a message - just below the surface. It's a perfect mix that allows anybody, of any religion (or lack of) to watch and enjoy the film. Could there be a hint of recruitment? Possibly... but "Camp Manna" won't change the mind of any nonbeliever, yet it does allow a nonbeliever to enjoy the film.
I'm not going to write much on the cast themselves. There are just to many - so let me make a blanket statement. This is a very well acted film. There is a familiar face or two, so you know it's going to be good... but everyone pulls their weight. For a comedic movie in this particular setting, anyone who doesn't fit in would be instantly noticed. I noticed noting - but will say this. There are some dramatic moments, and one or two touching ones. "Camp Manna" goes for the laughs - but doesn't forget that life isn't always funny.
At the end of the day? I really enjoyed this flick. Maybe I am a little one sided, considering this film falls right into a sub-genre I love - but who cares? "Camp Manna" is one of those films you watch to enjoy. You don't watch it to pick apart. You don't watch it in preparation for a serious event or speech - you watch it to have some fun with. A solid four and a half stars. Excellent job.