Hell Fest (2018)
★ / ★★★★
Those who have visited genuinely terrifying horror theme parks—or even just a well-executed maze or walkthrough—are likely to find “Hell Fest” an experience to be endured. I was bored by it most of the time because masked park workers jump at the characters so often that it becomes completely annoying. Notice how the first thirty minutes is shot like a music video—very busy with choppy editing and flashy lights—as it attempts to establish a sense of excitement. I thought it was dizzying and completely inappropriate for a horror film.
The screenwriters’ decision to put the characters inside the park as quickly as possible is correct. In slasher flicks, it is not necessary for the sheep to be slaughtered to command a deep backstory. In fact, I argue that although there are a few lines designed for the heroine to have some sort of dimension, Natalie (Amy Forsyth) having a tough time in college and in life is not filtered through the scope of story. In order words, her issues are brought up only when convenient but are quickly swept under the rug once the violence is front and center once again. What’s the point? Clearly, these lines of dialogue are simply there to take up time.
The order of which the characters are killed off is completely predictable. The setup is almost always the same: a member of the group (Bex Taylor-Klaus, Reign Edwards, Christian James, Matt Mercurio, Roby Attal) is separated somehow and the masked murderer just so happens to be waiting in a dark corner. Gee, nobody could have predicted that.
The formula is tired and it is most enraging that the writers—Seth M. Sherwood, Blair Butler, and Akela Cooper—do not even bother to deliver something remotely fresh, to modernize the formula even just a little. The order of the kills is the easiest to change up. Of course audiences are going to expect for the boys to be killed off first because they are typically physically strong. In the middle of it, I actually wished of the main character, Natalie, to be killed off because then it would have changed the direction of the story. I craved for some excitement from the writers’ point of view and received none.
Natalie is a boring protagonist. I suppose she is meant to be the wholesome, studious type, kind of like Laurie Strode in John Carpenter’s “Halloween,” a film that this project is obviously influenced by, from the way the camera lingers on the masked man’s face and body language to the chases that occur in cramped hallways. But I believe the writers have no understanding of Laurie—she may be a good girl, perhaps even uptight at times, but she is not boring.
Here, Natalie the heroine is not accessible; she does not even create a semblance of an impression that she wants to be at that theme park. Take away the boy whom she is romantically interested in and realize there is absolutely nothing else to her. At one point, she attempts to blend in with the mannequins in order to survive. This is the perfect metaphor for our bland heroine. I wished she remained with the mannequins for the rest of the picture.
Kills are brutal but never extremely gory—which is an interesting choice. The standout involves a guillotine with a dull blade. I winced and mentally begged for the whole thing to stop because it felt cruel for the character. But the attempt to kill this character does not stop there—which is smart because had it ended there, it would have humiliated the subject, a feeling I do not like to come across in horror movies, especially in slasher films. (Unless, of course, humiliation is the theme or connected to the theme of the work to be dissected.) I would rather watch doomed characters actually go out fighting. This way, at least there could be potential thrills in the inevitability.
“Hell Fest” is directed by Gregory Plotkin, a completely generic horror picture that isn’t even remotely scary. I recommend looking up one’s local haunted houses, mazes, or Halloween theme parks instead of choosing to sit through this dull, completely forgettable movie. The silent villain called The Other is not threatening in the least. The final three minutes is supposed to be haunting but instead I felt relief—because the movie is finally over.