Starring: Macarena García, Anna Castillo, Belén Cuesta
Director: Javier Ambrossi, Javier Calvo
Running Time: 108 mins
Holy Camp! (La llamada) is a Spanish film about two rebellious teenage girls who, while spending the summer at a Catholic camp, both come to realise deeper truths about themselves.
This is undoubtedly a unique film, offering a different perspective on the classic coming-of-age tale, and featuring quite a few surprising elements that show itself as a far deeper and more interesting film than you’d expect at first. Despite that, Holy Camp is still somewhat of a flawed film, failing to show its true colours early enough to really grab you, and often falling flat with some of its more outlandish moments, as well as a central message that is unnecessarily vague and difficult to understand for a good two-thirds of the duration.
The general trend of this film is one that sees it get much better as it goes along. So, before we get into the positives that arise towards the end of the movie, let’s start off with the film’s opening act, and some of its biggest weaknesses.
At first, the film appears like any other coming-of-age comedy-drama we’ve seen, with young rebellious girls ignoring the older establishment and going off with their own lives. That line of the story is okay at first, although it doesn’t offer anything particularly eye-opening in the grander scheme of things, while the comedy, although also fine, struggles to really get off the ground at first as the film wrestles with whether to focus on a lighter or darker atmosphere early on.
So, the opening act really doesn’t do all that much to grab you and invest you in the characters’ deeper feelings at first. What’s more is that it introduces the film’s religious consciousness (as the film is set in a Catholic summer camp) without being all too clear about what the angle is, whether it’s trying to push any sort of religious agenda, criticise it, or be totally neutral, and that left me feeling a little distracted towards the film’s more personal and emotional story, as I was trying to figure out where it stood on a theme that we don’t see all that often in modern cinema.
Another place that the film falls down is when it comes to the music. With the exception of the brilliantly bizarre first scene, the film’s musical breaks are generally jarring and seemingly unnecessary, with characters breaking into song in a way that doesn’t seem at all organic, and the songs themselves generally do little to emphasise the emotions and drama of the story, meaning they also prove a distraction from the deeper, emotional plot, and remain a stumbling block for the film on several occasions through the second act.
However, when it all comes down to the final half an hour, the film finally decides to open up and show what it really is. Despite the somewhat higgledy-piggledy first two acts, the final act is full of thrilling revelations and an incredible deepening of the story as a whole, bringing real emotional weight and extreme originality to a film that had up until then had seemed a little all over the place.
With a bizarre yet intriguing final act, I was absolutely enthralled by the film’s daring and bold decisions late on, all of which made me think back to earlier on, and understand a little more about why the film was the way it was at first, finishing the film as a whole on a really strong note, and leaving a strong impression on me with simply how different a direction it took from what I expected.
Overall, Holy Camp is a difficult film to rate as a whole, simply because its first two acts are so different from the brilliance of its final half hour. In terms of originality, depth and intrigue, the final act works absolute wonders, and will really impress you with revelations that you just can’t see coming, however the vague and frustrating nature of the first two acts means that the majority of the film isn’t quite as impressive, and fails to really enthrall you in the way that is clearly possible due to a confused mindset that proves rather distracting, and that’s why I’m giving this film a 7.1.