Halloween is right around the corner and for a lot of people, that means one thing: haunted houses and mazes. The majority of attractions are non-contact and perfectly safe. But what if the scares were real? What if the killer stalking you through a maze was actually trying to kill you? That’s the stuff of nightmares right there and exactly what Gregory Plotkin (editor of Get Out, Happy Death Day) brings to life in his second feature, Hell Fest. Hell Fest is drenched in colorful visuals and juicy violence, but is it as fun and thrilling as the attractions in its theme park? Step right up, my faithful fiends! Fasten your seatbelts and double-check your lap bar as we descend into this modern slasher.
Hell Fest is a smooth ride into the Halloween season, however not as thrilling as you’d want it to be. On a production level, this film is aces. The cinematography is slick and some of the special effects are fantastic. Thematically, the film was going for two different things which didn’t exactly meet in the middle. That and lackluster pacing made for a fairly uneven movie. While the film doesn’t do anything inherently wrong, Hell Fest tends to be a bit underwhelming, giving you glimpses of greatness but not following through on it’s ideas.
“…every scene [in Hell Fest is] brilliantly vibrant, as if you’re at the amusement park yourself.”
Gregory Plotkin really shines in Hell Fest, improving vastly on his last directorial effort Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension. Plotkin is not only in in the director’s chair, but also shared editing duties with David Egan. Plotkin’s eye, combined with the dynamic cinematography made for a cohesive aesthetic across the film. Not to mention the flawless color correction, making every scene brilliantly vibrant, as if you’re at the amusement park yourself. To poorly-lit movies that take place at night: take notes from Hell Fest. Also, shout out to the sound design department. An amusement park has so many noises and could easily sound muddled, but the sound mix was on point. They also utilize Tony Todd’s iconic baritone, with this voice appearing frequently bringing the park to life.
Plotkin also does a great job of establishing the tone for the movie and keeping it. Plotkin and producer Gale Anne Hurd, have both previously stressed the importance of creating an authentic atmosphere. They wanted the audience to feel as if you’re enjoying the amusement park with your friends as you watch the film, which they absolutely succeed in doing. Especially in scenes going through haunted mazes, where the solid camerawork really stands out.
Plotkin wants you to feel afraid. It’s terrifying knowing the killer could be anyone that occurs naturally in the park. However, the premise feels underused with too many empty jump scares throughout the film. This is unfortunate because we do actually get an interesting killer to follow. He’s unnerving, violent, and the mask has a gross texture to it. Each kill is absolutely brutal, accented by remarkable special effects. An interesting aspect that makes the killer extra sinister is his willingness to kill in the open. In a horror themed amusement park, it’s hard to determine what is real and the movie completely achieves that.
Unfortunately, Hell Fest is lacking in the kills department. After getting all excited over the killer’s most memorable execution, the film takes a lull and we don’t get any action for quite a while. The film already has an R-rating and showed creativity in it’s kills, and we could have used more of them, or a more mysterious killer. This is where the themes of the film conflict because part of the movie wants to be a violent slasher, and the other part wants to be character driven and fun. I suppose the film wanted to be more accessible to a larger audience, but lack of character development makes these character driven sections of the film drag.
“Hell Fest is a fun ride, but not nearly as fun as it thinks it is or could be […] a solid start to the Halloween season, and Plotkin delivers visually appealing affair worth the price of admission.”
Which leads me to the biggest flaw of the film, our group of protagonists. The characters are admitted stereotypes, to a degree, which are elevated by a charismatic cast led by Bex Taylor-Klaus. However, our final girl Natalie i supposed to have this implied arc of going from shy girl to coming out of her shell. We get an exposition dump at the begging and that’s all the background we get. We don’t really see much of this, with most of the groups interactions being either jokes or flirting. She definitely turns into a bad ass by the end of the film, but not through revelations of her back story or development through interactions. More just out of the circumstance that she’s trying to survive. Though it didn’t have an emotional impact, the final showdown between Natalie and our killer is still pretty fun.
Hell Fest is a fun ride, but not nearly as fun as it thinks it is or could be. The film had a premise ripe to create something truly terrifying, however, the movie plays it safe. There are plenty of great moments and scattered thrills, but the attempt of trying to create a dynamic protagonist slows the ride down at times. It has the seeds to be a brutal slasher flick, which could be improved upon in another film as the end leaves room for a sequel. Could have been darker, edgier but still entertaining enough. Think of Hell Fest as a rollercoaster that doesn’t go upside down: it’ll get you heart pumping a bit, but something feels missing. Hell Fest is a solid start to the Halloween season, and Plotkin delivers visually appealing affair worth the price of admission.