Singing nuns and musicals have gone together like communion wafers and wine since Maria first urged us to climb every mountain and ford every stream in The Sound of Music. But finding a new twist on the concept over the years has proven to be a bit trickier, especially after stinkers like Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit and the TV movie version of the cult musical Nunsense, pretty much killed the genre back in the early 1990s.
But like Saint Lazarus himself, movie musicals about singing nuns have risen anew with the release of Holy Camp!. Based on the award-winning Spanish stage musical, La Llamada, which, like the film, was written and directed by the hugely popular Madrid-based multihyphenates Javier Ambrossi and Javier Calvo (aka Los Javis) Holy Camp! doesn’t revive the singing nun genre so much as totally burn it to the ground and start anew in high-flying style.
Set in a Catholic summer camp for girls run by the imperious newcomer, Reverend Mother Bernanda de Los Arcos (veteran Spanish character actress, Gracia Olayo), Holy Camp! follows the exploits of two of the camp’s most rebellious teens, Susana Romero (The Olive Tree’s Goya Award-winner Anna Castillo) and María Casado (Snow White’s Goya Award-winner Macarena García). Hoping to launch a career as electro pop singers under the name Suma Latina, Susana and María sneak out of their bunks in their cabin every night to party with boys and someone claiming to be a big time record producer at a club in town.
But after María has a life-altering late-night encounter with God (Perfume: The Story of a Murderer’s Richard Collins-Moore), who appears to her as a Whitney-Houston-belting showman on a sparkling stairway to heaven, things change for the duo forever. And with most of the camp away on a kayaking expedition, María, Susana, Mother Bernanda and a younger novice named, appropriately enough, Milagros (Spanish Affair 2’s luminescent Belén Cuesta), have to deal with the fall-out from María’s extraordinary claim – and all of the resulting emotions and hidden desires it unleashes in them all – in their own, unique ways through the “magic” of music.
Campy, hilarious, and even more entertaining than you’d think a Spanish-language LGBTQ musical comedy about first love, digital age miracles, and singing nuns could ever possibly hope to be, Holy Camp! really does have to be seen to be believed.
To be fair, the film borrows liberally from everyone from John Waters and Pedro Almodóvar to David Lynch. But the end result is as fresh and original as anything you’ve watched on an airplane in years. And even if you only come for the songs, Holy Camp’s buoyant, hopeful portrayal of a fun, next-gen Catholicism where real-life miracles and gold lamé booty shorts go hand-in-hand is impossible not to fall head over chunky heels in love with.
So, get thee to this nunnery straight away and enjoy!
Now playing on select Alitalia, Cathay Pacific, EVA Air, and Hong Kong Airlines flights worldwide, Holy Camp! is also available via streaming on Netflix.