Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. The more I read about this movie, the more I'm sure it's the scariest film I'll see this year. This is a real life horror movie in my eyes. I'm actually nervous about watching it because I'm afraid of what I'll see. This review is extremely well written and does a good job trying to separate the religion from the horrible acts described. Enjoy!
I sat on this review for about a week trying to decide if it was possible to discuss this film as a piece of art rather than to just debate its content. I've come to the conclusion that it's impossible. The fact of the matter is this: JESUS CAMP is a straightforward, blandly-produced documentary with very little to note aesthetically. The shots are simple; the subjects are obvious; there's no daunting musical score. The characters it follows and exposes are exceptional and the story is less created and more just left to observe. It seems as though there was no attempt whatsoever to establish a narrative. And it didn't need an attempt. Because even as thinly-coaxed as this is, it still managed to break my heart. By now you likely know the specifics of the title: the film explores the lives of a few select Evangelical Christians – those planted firmly on the extreme right side of the religious playing field – and follows them to a church camp in North Dakota called "Kids on Fire". At this camp these children – most ages 7-13, it seemed – are taught that they are to rise up as part of "God's Army", all intangible in bringing Jesus back to America. And before you squawk about how this film demonizes perfectly wonderful Christians, please remember this: all those involved, based on their recent interviews with media outlets, are thrilled as to how they were portrayed. I'm not going to pretend to be unbiased here. I'm a moderate-liberal Libertarian who was raised Christian and is now staunchly agnostic. My patience with the religious right – politically – has worn thin. Like a lot of even-thinking Americans, I realize that A) these Evangelicals do not represent all Christians and that B) anyone living in this country should be free to choose to believe whatever the hell their (hopefully) happy heart desires. It's part of the basis of our Constitution. So, however – in a point that seems largely forgotten to some – is the fact that no religion should be a part of government. It is with all of this in mind that I ask you, for a moment, to forget that this film has anything to do with religion whatsoever. Because though religion has a heavy hand in the themes and ideas presented in this movie, the main undercurrent is about something far different. This is, quite simply, an accidental cautionary tale, and the message therein is obvious: children can be brainwashed to believe anything. JESUS CAMP proves that in spades, and as sure as rain makes you not-dry, it's an EASY process. It's very clear from the beginning as one of the main boys – aged 11 or 12 – tells Pastor Becky, the woman who runs the camp, that he "got saved" when he was five years old because he, "just wanted more out of life." At age five. There's an adorable ten year-old girl who loves to dance but admits that she has to check herself now and again because she doesn't want to be like Britney Spears or Lindsay Lohan. She wants to dance for God – and yet, like the two starlets often do, she still sometimes makes a mistake and (as she explains with a sullen expression and her head down) dances "for the flesh". At age ten. Yet another precocious little girl, about the same age, has been conditioned and encouraged to evangelize to strangers in the bowling alley, at school, and on the street. She's been convinced that she can sense when someone "needs God in their life" and that she can point them to His grace. Towards the end of the film she approaches a group of black men and asks them, "If you died today, where do you think you would go?" One answers, "Heaven," with a bemused laugh. She checks several times to make sure that's what he meant, then thanks them and leaves, telling her friend, "I think they were Muslims." These are a few of the many examples that this film spills out that shows us, without a doubt, that these opinions and behaviors are not those of children who have been taught to think for themselves. Further scenes show us that Pastor Becky and the other church leaders and camp volunteers fervently – almost violently – berate these children, telling them that though they might say they're "good Christians", they break every day. They swear. They lie. They dishonor God. They read HARRY POTTER. And the only way to Salvation is to give their lives to God's Army, to repent for the awful nature of being a pre-teen, to convulse and apologize to the heavens in tongues. Under the watchful eyes of not only their church officials, but their parents and each other. And that's where we realize the absolute travesty that's befallen these children. Everyone in America is guaranteed a CHOICE to believe whatever they want to believe...and these children have been denied that choice. Their rights were violated before they even knew what rights were. They've been turned into robots. They've been turned into pawns for a greater religious and political movement. Don't think that the scene where the kids are goaded into worshipping a cardboard cutout of George W. Bush is anything but worship. Oh sure, they call it "blessing" him, but it's idol worship – which, the last time I checked, was a direct violation of the Ten Commandments. Think they worshipped a cutout of Clinton the same way? It's doubtful, seeing as they're given these children a day-long lesson on the evils of abortion and telling them to pray for Bush to appoint a judge that's friendly with criminalizing the practice. They're part of God's Army now, and they need to make sure that Congress and the White House are stacked with their Generals. And that's to say nothing of the fact that there's no need to have any kind of discussion with eight year-olds about abortion. If people were taking their children to Yankee Camp and teaching them to worship Derek Jeter, we'd claim it was a disturbed cult. If they were headed to Phish camp and taught about marijuana, it'd be a crime. And yet I'd ask you how it's any different at all to take these kids and form their spirituality for them. And then take it a step further and make them a group of pawns to guarantee future electoral success. Don't be fooled by the morons who tell you this is a movie that's liberally biased against Christianity. Oh, it's liberally biased all right, but not against Christianity – it's biased against child abuse, and these "Christians" just happen to practice one of the most covert and yet, somehow, blatantly obvious forms of it. This is not an art film. It's not beautifully photographed. It's not fair and balanced. It's not a flight of narrative genius. All the director/producers had to do was show up, point, and shoot. But as an exposé into an absolutely terrifying form of the same training that was most notably popularized by Hitler and, more recently, Al Qaeda, it's as important as anything you'll see this year. Especially when you realize that these people are milking these children and their delicate psyches until they break. Those that do have had the capacity to bomb abortion clinics. For starters. Is anyone stupid enough to believe that it's going to stop there? Mr. Winston