Review - 'Hell Fest'
By design, Hell Fest is destined to be a cult classic somewhere down the line, unfortunately that doesn’t absolve it from the sins that it commits today. Gregory Plotkin’s Hell Fest plays like the fourth or fifth entry in a slasher franchise, and while it’s nice that it gets to the action rather quickly and forgoes exposition, the film sacrifices crucial world-building and character development in the process.
The plot is as follows: A group of young adults reunite to attend an edgy horror festival; Hell Fest. What starts out as a fun and games quickly takes a turn for the worse when a masked serial killer begins to stalk them throughout the night.
Hell Fest hits the ground running as it tries to establish itself as the next slasher main-stay akin to genre stalwarts like Halloween and Friday the 13th. The only problem is that it forgets to introduce characters that we care about, or even a tangible world for them to inhabit. We are quickly greeted by a random group of vanilla teens but before you know it they’re being thrown to the wolves. In addition to this, the main antagonist bursts on to the scene like we’re already supposed to know what he’s all about. Hell Fest has a very “round two” feel about it in that sense. That said, I can’t hate on this movie too much because it knows how to be fun, has excellent pacing and is surprisingly inventive with its thrills and kills. In a way, it is like many of the attractions you might expect to see at any given horror festival. You go in, get your cheap thrills and get out, just don’t expect anything more.
Perhaps the best aspect of Hell Fest is how it keeps the identity and motive of its killer completely under wraps, and only gives out a slight morsel of background information about him by the time the credits roll. Regardless of whether or not this was an intentional decision, or laziness, it still works in favor of the film. The mystery of this killer helps keep him scary and gives him a presence that is more intimidating and unpredictable. The movie also subverts expectations in the order and manner of which the killer dispatches his victims. There’s a very surprising death towards the beginning that made me realize that anyone could meet their end at any time, regardless of their perceived importance to the plot.
Another knock against Hell Fest is just how high-school production the acting comes off. These characters seem like they were plucked right out of theater class. However, there are some times when the actors’ awkwardness in front of the camera adds an earnest charm to the film. The performances aren’t bad per se, there’s just a lack of confidence from the main players, so much so that nobody is ever really commanding the screen or driving the narrative save for the killer.
Being a massive fan of the Halloween franchise and slasher films in general, I was excited to watch Hell Fest, while also knowing full-well that it would most likely be another schlock-filled mess that pales in comparison to the titans of horror it is influenced by. Color me slightly surprised that the movie actually manages to hold its own and be an entertaining jaunt that celebrates the spirit of slashers and Halloween. Still, it’s not enough to overcome middling-to-poor acting, zero character development and a compete lack of an outside world to help put the events into context.