Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Review: Hell Fest (2018)

There's always something rather satisfying in sitting back and enjoying one of those eighties slasher movies. You know, the ones where a group of kids go off to camp, or to a mall, or to babysit, or to a deserted cabin in the woods ... only to find death waiting for them in the form of a deranged schoolfriend, the janitor, someone who died there years ago, or an escaped psycho from the local hospital.  What makes the films good is the tension, imaginative deaths, and a good dose of eye candy for both male and female viewers.

There's a formula for these things, and if you follow the formula, you generally get an entertaining film. Note I don't say a good film as some of these offerings are sorely lacking in acting ability, camerawork, effects or pretty much everything. But they're still entertaining.

We have seen some pastiches on the form in recent years. I'm thinking of course of Cabin in the Woods, the marvellous trope subverting film from Wes Craven, but also Todd Strauss-Schulson's 2015 film The Final Girls which brilliantly plays with the idea of film within film and the concept of the 'Final Girl' ie the one left standing at the end to defeat/unmask the killer.

This brings me to 2018's Hell Fest. Directed by Gregory Plotkin, it seems to be trying to present a take on the genre, but what it doesn't do is present anything new. In fact, the whole film is overall quite disappointing as you're expecting something original, but in fact there is nothing. And worse still, it doesn't follow the 'rules'.

The basic idea is that a group of teens (Amy Forsyth as Natalie, Reign Edwards as Brooke, Bex Taylor-Klaus as Taylor, Christian James as Quinn, Matt Mercurio as Asher and Roby Attal as Gavin)  head off to Hell Fest, a local horror carnival, which features a variety of the sort of thing which happens every Halloween in America, and indeed which features at the various Universal theme parks around the country too. There are 'haunted houses', 'Ghost Train' rides, actors in costume trying to scare people, horror themed food and drink and carnival side shows ... anything and everything horror.

Into this scenario comes a nameless killer, who stalked the grounds of Hell Fest before, killing girls, and now is back to do the same.

So the film follows our six teens as they explore the park, go through the various rides, and get stalked by the killer, who bumps them off one by one. Apart from the production design (by It Follows' Michael Perry) which is superb - some of these Hell Fest attractions are by far the scariest and most imaginative that I have ever seen - the script is lazy. The kids are killed off one by one: one random girl is seen being stabbed with a knife; one of our heroes - the immensely likable Taylor (Bex Taylor-Klaus, who seems to be channelling Warehouse 13's Alison Scagliotti) is stabbed with a knife and one of the guys, Gavin, gets his head smashed in with a mallet. It's all gory fun ... but as the film progresses, there seems little point to the proceedings, and a disinterest sets in.

The killer is just 'the Other' (Stephen Conroy) and as he wears a mask throughout and we never see his face, is nameless and just a killing machine. Whereas 'the Shape' in Halloween and 'Jason' in the Friday the Thirteenth films are masked killers too, these have more personality and some sort of modus operandi. Here the killer just kills and we never know why.

He also does not receive any come-uppance, walking away at the end, despite being stabbed by one of the girls. It's the killings too which have no imagination or cleverness behind them ... just knife stabbings on the whole.  There was the scope to really up the ante here and to present something clever, but this never happens.

So as a film, it's well shot, well acted, and the location and production design is superb. It's unfortunately the script which lets it down. Disappointing.

Released On Digital HD 8th March and DVD 1st April 2019

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