MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Hell Fest’ Offers The Thrills And Chills of A Horror Park Without Having To Visit One
It’s been a good couple of years for the horror genre. Break out hits like Get Out, A Quite Place, The Witch, Hereditary and The Girl With All The Gifts have ushered in a creative renaissance and have earned top box office dollars. The trend of psychological mind-fuckery and deep metaphors has most certainly changed the expectations of what a horror movie can be. Not saying that’s a negative change. Damn well written and well thought out stories will always be a GOOD thing. But there is nothing wrong with making a few classic slasher flicks with old-fashioned scares. That style of horror are few and far between these days, but there are still those interested in them. After all, they would get to make scary movies featuring obnoxious teenagers getting killed in various fucked up ways from a masked killer. Sometimes that’s just absurd, dark fun. Such is the case with new horror film – Hell Fest.
Imagine going to Universal Halloween Horror Nights or Six Flags Freight Fest. These places are ideal for eliciting the emotional turmoil of being SCARED. To be jolted by unpredictability. It’s a fun and safe experience. But what if it wasn’t? What if you took that feeling of security away? What if you saw someone getting murdered at a horror park? You might think it’s all part of the night’s ghoulish acts… but what if it never was? What if a dead rotting carcass wasn’t just another gruesome prop but you’re annoying roommate, Tommy? That’s the premise of Hell Fest.
On Halloween weekend, Natalie (The Path’s Amy Forsyth) pays a visit to her best friend Brook (The Bold and The Beautiful’s Reign Edwards), unaware that her roommate Taylor (Scream’s Bex Taylor-Klaus) and their boyfriends Quinn (Christian James) and Asher (Matt Mercurio) have VIP ticket to Hell Fest, a traveling horror carnival that’s currently in town. Not a fan of horror, Taylor, or being a fifth wheel, Natalie is only convinced to join the group when she learns her long time crush Gavin (Roby Attal) bought her a ticket. The three young women and their respective (obnoxious but lovable) boyfriends head out for a night of horrific rides, games, mazes. The group soon faces a bloody night of terror when a masked serial killer turns the horror theme park into his own personal playground.
From the moral lead, hedonistic buddies, and the sweet friend that holds them all together, the cast fulfill their roles as typical teens in adequate fashion (It is Bex Taylor-Klaus high energy performance as a fun loving agent-of-chaos who stands out the most!).
The Killer (known only as “The Other”) pays homage to infamous slashers like Micheal Myers and Jason Vorhees. Like them, he is silent and hunts his victims in a controlled and deliberate fashion. Unlike iconic killers before him, however, this masked assailant is not a hulking brute. He doesn’t make much of an impression physically. Outside of a really creepy asymmetrical flesh mask (like someone threw acid on Scream‘s Ghostface), his appearance is intentionally non-descript. A man of less than average build concealed in a dark hoodie and worn out jeans. His power is his anonymity. The guy you don’t see coming can be (and is) more terrifying than the one you can.
If this movie does anything right, it shines the most in capturing the experience of being at a horror park and going through the haunted attractions. As anyone who has been to a park can attest, there is that excitement on arrival – that “YEAH… LET’S DO THIS!!!” feeling as you’re surrounded by crowds and ghoulish fiends abound, while neon lights flash and flicker, and heavy metal blasts through the parks speakers. That bravery goes out the window when going through the first maze, having to the face the unexpected. Walking through darkness with your head sunken to your shoulders, encountering sets/rooms where monsters jump outta nowhere instantly triggering a scream and some subsequent laughs.
The movie takes the kids through a whimsical high school themed maze, the devils carnival, a haunted tram ride, and a depression inspired ghost town with old time sideshows. The production crew behind Hell Fest (lead by Michael Perry – It Follows) have clearly been to their share of horror theme adventure parks, as they absolutely and unequivocally nailed the experience of what it most horror mazes look and feel like – incorporating lighting, unnerving props, elaborate set pieces, and actual horror maze gimmicks. Kudos to director Gregory Plotkin (Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension) on dictating well executed camera movement and editing. You’re not watching the kids walk through a horror maze, you feel like you’re walking and experiencing the haunts and freights with them.
While the film takes the kids on an operatic journey, with each horror maze more intense than the last, leading up to an intense crescendo of sorts, it lacks a heroic moment. You expect the lead (Amy Forsyth) to be scared and vulnerable, to go through an ordeal, and be awakened as a kick-ass bitch that fights back. However, the film never gets there. Survivor’s scramble, yes. Heroic moment, No.
A common trope of slasher flicks is that the hero survives generally because they exhibit some traits that the audience view as positive, and the others are killed because they are not as virtuous. These movies consciously or unconsciously reflect society’s fears and anxieties toward hedonistic youths. Hell Fest offers no such deeper meaning. It seems to be strictly surface level plot and good murderous fun. For what the film lacks in meaningful thematics, it makes up for in delivering a well manifested killer and in its efforts to recreating the thrills of a horror festival.
Overall, there isn’t anything particularly special about this horror film other than the idea at its core. But it definitely deserves kudos for keeping the Slasher genre alive and offering the thrills of a horror park without actually having to visit one.
Look for Hell Fest in theaters on September 28, 2018.