As I exited my showing of Hell Fest, I quickly googled the phrase “Hell Fest.” Not because I found Hell Fest so exciting that I just had to learn more about Hell Fest, but because I was certain that I had not watched a movie called Hell Fest, but a 89 minute advertisement for a theme park called Hell Fest.
Hell Fest feels like a commercial for something called Hell Fest for many reasons, primarily the fact that the characters repeatedly talk about Hell Fest, never letting us forget that we’re watching people at Hell Fest. They also frequently high five one another, because it is apparently very awesome to be at Hell Fest.
Occasionally, a trait other than a passion for Hell Fest manifests in one of the three interchangeable men (Christian James, Matt Mercurio, and Roby Attal) or three slightly more defined women (Bex Taylor-Klaus’s snarky Taylor, Reign Edward’s supportive best friend Brooke, and Amy Forsyth’s wholesome final girl Natalie). But that trait tends to be love for friends and lovers, a love best expressed by sharing a good time at Hell Fest.
What is Hell Fest, you ask? Despite being its only setting and only consistent concern, the movie never really defines Hell Fest. Hell Fest seems to be some sort of Halloween festival, complete with spooky takes on carnival games and a masquerade rave, but the primary attractions are the various mazes and costumed actors who jump out and scare patrons.
Every time a costumed actor jumps out at a character, director Gregory Plotkin zoom cuts to the “monster” and adds a shriek to the soundtrack, so we know that it’s scary. And if we somehow missed that it’s scary when a guy in a costume jumps out at you, one of the characters will tell one another that it’s scary, and then will usually shout something like, “I love Hell Fest!” and then high fives another character. They really like Hell Fest, you see.
So in love with Hell Fest is the movie Hell Fest that it sometimes forgets to advance the plot of Hell Fest, which involves a slasher stalking our main sextet around Hell Fest. Granted, the slasher never gets a name, wears only a boring brown mask, and exhibits little motivation beyond annoyance when people say they aren’t scared by Hell Fest (which leaves him with few victims, because how could anyone dislike Hell Fest, what with all the “whoos” and high fives and whatnots), but one would think actual murder would earn more attention than the mazes and costumes of Hell Fest.
The slasher manages to give us one genuinely delightful kill and one familiar but gory kill, and horror great Tony Todd does show up for five minutes to class up the joint, but the film doesn’t care enough about either of those things to give them real attention. Instead, Plotkin and his five writers construct set pieces around the main characters going through the mazes of Hell Fest, building tension as they wait for a park worker in a mask to jump out and say “boo.”
To that end, Hell Fest is successful. I thoroughly believe that people who go to Hell Fest have a really good time at Hell Fest. It looks like so much fun that I would rather be at a festival called Hell Fest than I would be at the theater watching the movie Hell Fest.