A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Wilderness/survival therapy camps are rife with problems and abuses and should be overseen, and even if the owners and directors have good intentions, the possibilities for things to go wrong, even tragically wrong, are too high. The likelihood that parents who send their kids to these camps are being overcharged (most cost tens of thousands of dollars) is great because the owners are mainly in the business for the money.
Positive Role Models
Steve Cartisano, who started one of the first survival therapy camps, is presented as smart and probably well-intended at first, but quickly became overwhelmed. There's some implication that he kept going despite the problems and abuses to fund a lavish lifestyle. Many of the campers interviewed were rebellious and/or committed crimes when they were teens, but whether the camps helped or harmed them, they showed a lot of perseverance, especially endurance, in surviving incredibly harsh conditions.
Most interview subjects appear to be White, with very few exceptions. Most campers come from affluent families who could afford, although not always easily, the high cost of sending their kids to therapy camp.
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Violence & Scariness
Adult interview subjects tell of abuses, including sexual assault, they experienced as teens. Teens are abducted from home in the middle of the night, slapped, strangled, dragged by the ankles, fondled, and more. Mildly bloody injuries and bruising are shown, as well as teens in very poor physical condition. A teen died after a long hike in the desert. Mention of a past attempted suicide. Descriptions of sexual assault mention fondling and imply that more happened.
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"F--k," "s--t," "hell," the middle-finger gesture.
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Products & Purchases
One interview subject mentions McDonald's, Oreos, and Round Top ice cream as things he longed to get back to while he was in therapy camp.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Archival footage shows rowdy teens drinking and smoking. Interview subjects mention past marijuana use, being a "stoner," liking to smoke pot, taking LSD, PCP, and abusing antidepressants by overdosing them many times.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Hell Camp: Teen Nightmare is a documentary about a series of wilderness survival therapy camps for at-risk teens, the man who founded them, and the teens who experienced them. Now adults, interview subjects talk about abuse, emotional and physical, as well as a couple of incidents of sexual assault they experienced at the camps. Abuses include things like being dragged along the ground by the ankles, which were tied together, being slapped and strangled, and being abducted from bed in the middle of the night. Sexual assault mentions being fondled and implies that more happened but doesn't describe what. Strong language includes "f--k" and "s--t." Archival footage shows teens drinking, smoking, and encouraging excess. Past use of marijuana, LSD, PCP, and alcohol are described. Overdosing on antidepressants and attempted suicide are mentioned. A website is provided at the end with information and resources for people who've experienced abuse. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
This is a gripping but sometimes difficult-to-watch documentary that has a strong, clear point of view, but also asks a lot of good questions for families with teens to think about. Hell Camp: Teen Nightmare doesn't shy away from conveying that these camps have gone too far and are a bad idea to begin with. But they also leave room for discussion about important issues that make it worthwhile viewing, like corporal punishment, industry oversight, the high cost, whether it's a fair approach, and whether teens have any rights in this type of situation.
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Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.