Forgive me if I sound old-fashioned, but murdered teens just aren’t what they used to be. There was a time when you could tell a relatable story about you and your best buds heading up to your favorite lakeside camp,where you could find some summer memories, maybe a little bit of romance, and definitely an axe-wielding stranger. Now, those stories are in danger of feeling a little dated. I mean, when was the last time you went outside? We have Twitter now! To tell a teen slasher story today, you’d need to find a new angle. Enter Party Hard, Die Young.
Party Hard, Die Young follows a group of devil-may-care teens on a trip to celebrate their high school graduation. But instead of the woods, a beach, or some ski resort, these teens are headed to X-Jam. This summer slam is spring break on steroids, a drug-fueled, sex-crazed, neon-colored party contained solely on one island location. Our teen group, lead by the intuitive Julia, spends a few days living it up, but then things start to turn dark. Julia’s best friend Jessy disappears, and though Julia was very high, she swears that she saw someone attack her bestie. What follows is a dubstepping, strobe-lit whodunit, culminating in a shocking revelation between friends who thought they knew each other.
“[Party Hard, Die Young] is a dubstepping, strobe-lit whodunit, culminating in a shocking revelation between friends who thought they knew each other.”
Let me start this review by admitting a personal bias. I love teen slashers. There’s something about high-school-drama turned horror that just makes sense to me. Maybe that says something about how I felt about high school (hint: not a fan) but to me, teen slashers are the ultimate coming of age stories. They’re about young, naive people on the cusp of adulthood finding out their actions have consequences, that living care-free can lead to disaster. Even without a masked killer in the mix, that’s a terrifying thing, and one that we all have to face. The characters in Party Hard, Die Young all exemplify an aspect of this idea. Plus, weaving a scandalous, neo-Agatha-Christie mystery into the story pretty much means this film scratches every itch I’ve got.
Alright, so personal bias aside, there’s still a lot for a general viewer to love about Party Hard. Director Dominik Hartl knows how to make a genre movie without just repeating a genre movie. His chase scenes are as tense as anything you’ll see in Halloween, but their construction is completely different. Instead of following a single character around the corners of a spooky old house, Hartl puts some of his scariest moments in full view of the massive X-Jam crowds. In one particularly memorable scene, Julia is being chased and, to avoid the (possible) killer’s gaze, actually hides between grinding bodies at a rave. The partygoers continue dancing, entirely oblivious to the deadly stakes around them. It’s always fun to see dark humor really work in a horror movie, doubly so when it’s literally under blacklight.
When this movie wants to be subtle, it does so with aplomb. For example, the killer’s mask is a simple yellow smiley face. You know, “Have a nice day.” When bodies start showing up on the trip, Julia gets snapchats of the victims, a simple white “x” crossing their faces. I don’t think this is intentional minimalism or anything, these elements are just what they need to be, no more. I like that a lot, it means I wouldn’t get distracted from the story. Maybe I’m also just impressed with the film’s subtleties because, on the other hand, other parts of this movie are just so extravagant. Hartl shot real footage at X-Jam to paint this movies scenery, and the movie’s ability to switch from those massive crowds to little character details (and even mix the two) is noteworthy.
“So you’ve said a bunch about the details of this movie,” says the imaginary reader in my head, “But it’s a horror movie, dammit, tell us if it’s scary!” Well, let me assure you, it really is. Party Hard‘s suspense is engrossing and rewarding. Then there’s the imagery. I already mentioned the smiley mask and sinister snapchats, but this movie is just full of other disturbing shots. Some of the kills, for example, are especially scarring, and there are several points in the film that threatened to make me never look at a glass bottle the same way. However, the real horror for me, the thing that stayed with me as I left the theater, isn’t an image at all. It’s more of an attitude. I’ll explain ahead, be wary of (very vague) spoilers.
When people start disappearing on the island, the crowd’s reaction is skepticism. It’s a big party they think. People wander off. Then, when actual bodies appear, they chalk it up to some freak accidents. Bad, yes, but not the result of a sinister conspiracy. Finally, when there is undeniable evidence that there are people being systematically murdered at this event, what does the crowd do?
They keep partying.
“In funny, visually entertaining ways, Party Hard, Die Young actually shows us a very grim picture of our world.”
They just keep doing drugs, having sex, and drinking until the sun comes up. Now to be fair, they think the cops apprehended the killer for the second act of the film, so it’s not that they’re out raving while they think a killer is hiding among them. Still, these kids are partying on the site of a serial murder, just minutes after the supposed murderer leaves. In one funny scene, X-Jam’s ringleader even applauds this attitude, treating it as almost a tribute to the dead. These people are so removed from the reality around them, so willingly ignorant of this unspeakable horror, that they can dance on floors recently covered in their peers’ blood. That’s so against the grain of how we view our moral awareness as human beings. These teens aren’t just accepting their apathy, they’re reveling in it.
In funny, visually entertaining ways, Party Hard, Die Young actually shows us a very grim picture of our world. We’re not on the same island like these partying teens, but through the internet, we are more connected to the rest of the globe than ever. At the same time, there’s never been more of an opportunity to distract ourselves with meaningless fun. The same phone that tells you about the latest horrific attack can keep you entertained for hours with shape-and-color games. This movie presents us with that information, and then asks us a question. Will we accept the horrors in the reality around us…or will just we keep having fun?
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