2 (out of 4)
Gregory Plotkin's initial directorial effort was the final Paranormal Activity film subtitled The Ghost Dimension and he served as editor for every sequel in the series. Apart from stitching together found footage flicks to diminishing returns he's also lent his scissored hands to more impressive Blumhouse treats like Happy Death Day and Get Out. Plotkin’s debut proper is Hell Fest, which, while far from torturous, doesn't instigate much in the way of diabolical jubilation.
The premise of a murderer walking amongst the make-up, stilts, strobe lights, fog machines and tricked out mazes of a haunted theme park is so obvious you wonder how it possibly couldn't have been conceived before. The idea is promising and the visual realization is respectable, but Hell Fest is so deficient in character and imagination that there's only a moment here and there that doesn't smack of a timeworn formula. Plotkin has a knack for keeping things spruce and practical – his direction is not without instances that impress. It's just that Hell Fest is so damn conventional that it's only tolerable based on the most paltry of pleasures i.e. watching inebriated, lascivious teenagers get what's coming to them from a patient, predatory stalker.
There’s never been many classics spawned from the basic slasher setup outside of the original Halloween, and a knockoff masked madman with no backstory or identity whatsoever is no evidence to the contrary. Maybe this film's psychopath gets upset if young girls don't think he’s scary? The motives are superfluous despite an ending that probably sounded slick on paper. Plotkin apparently hoped to transmute a very doctored story and script – devised by no less than six writers – into a reincarnation of splatter movies' old-fashioned customs. With an ominous and ornate carnival setting and believably stupid 20-somethings, Hell Fest nonetheless comes off as stock, stale and routine rather than a deftly straightforward preservation of a horror tradition.
Though I'm keen to laud realistically vapid dialogue from college-aged kids, there's not a distinctive individual in the bunch. With no one worth following into the infernal revelry and barbarity, Hell Fest isn’t eerie, horrific or even cheesy – the only amusement comes from the secondhand thrills of our leads navigating the grandiose Halloween festival, which is more fun before they become the prey of a serial killer.
If actual haunted hay rides or a similar night out is your cup of tea in October, it's bound to be scarier if you experience the real fakery. Hell Fest is only good for killing time before you start watching good horror – classic or cult films I hope, as Luca Guadagnino's Suspiria remake is the only encouraging sight on the horizon.
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