Ian (Luke Klein) is doing what many American teens do for the summer, he is off to camp. However, Ian isn't off to just any camp he's off to Camp Manna at the behest of his aunt and uncle. Manna is a Christian camp for young men where souls are saved, counsellors are a little weird, nerdy and the guy who runs the whole place, is called Cujo (Gary Busey) and is ......well...... a little unhinged (in the nicest possible way).
Luke feels like a fish out of water, knows no one else at camp, is bunking in with the camp outcasts (the Passover Pirates) and has no faith at all following his parents tragic demise. Thrown in at the deep end and made to compete in the God games, an annual cabin v cabin series of challenges, Ian must try to survive camp and work out what the heck everyone is talking about!
There's always a risk with any film taking a sideways look at elements of Christianity that it can quickly descend into derogatory swipes and petty digs at Christian culture. I was therefore so pleased and found my heart warmed to be in convulsions of laughter within minutes of the film's opening. It is possible to poke fun with affection and respect and that is exactly what the film makers have accomplished here.
There are stereotypes within the film, both Clayton the uber popular counsellor with a tattoo counting off the souls he has saved is a familiar braggadocious character and Bradley the nerdy, well intentioned, prayerful, scripture searching counsellor stand out. I can identify those I;ve met along my own journey that these characters represent and could even go as far/honest to acknowledge when I have strayed into playing these roles. These stereotypes are not simply comedic foils for the journey but also nodded to respectfully and lovingly as if the film makers wish to acknowledge the roles the Clayton's and Bradley's played for them.f you've spent any time in a Sunday School, Holiday Bible club or Youth Club you will recognise some of the games, epilogues and naff music that we've all endured and yet has at the same time been formative and valuable. We all had a Clayton or Bradley in our lives at some point!
Simply put Camp Manna is funny, laugh out loud funny. It is not however a niche film for 'cool Christians' to laugh their way through/at, it has a much broader appeal. Those within the walls will laugh at it and those outside who find these thing ludicrous will laugh at them too. This is after all a comedy but also it serves as a nostalgia filled love letter to days past. An acknowledgement of the camp experience, the friendships formed and the life lessons (faith based or otherwise) we all learnt in truly bizarre circumstances!
The character of Luke raises interesting questions. How do we treat those without faith? Do we rush to convert or is the real ministry in the slow, patient walk alongside someone? In our rush to save another soul are we missing how they are ministering to us? Luke comes to a place determined that has is filled with the intention to save him but as it turns out he may be the one doing the real work of ministry.
I'm hard to please when it comes to comedy films and I fear that age and cynicism is making it harder for me to laugh these days but Camp Manna cracked open a spring of laughter buried deep within. I'm grateful for the time spent at camp and I'm al ready excited for my return visit.
Camp Manna is released digitally on 5th June.