This fall is off to a good start with CBS Films’ Hell Fest, their theme park slasher from Gregory Plotkin (Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension) that earns its “R” rating.
Capitalizing on the popularity of local haunts, the film heads inside a traveling attraction – Hell Fest – in which a group of friends are stalked and taunted by a serial killer posing as one of the actors.
Above all else, Hell Fest over-delivers on its promises, not just to be a hardcore, old school slasher film, but to take viewers inside a believable haunt. The set design is off the charts and features a massive array of unique, colorful, and scary mazes that look as authentic as the one in your town. Even more impressive is that most of the haunts aren’t just eye candy, but are used against the audience for various jump scares and to keep them on the edge of their seats. Plotkin’s camerawork/blocking is key to bringing this all together as he makes the complicated geography of the park his bitch.
As for the violence, CBS Films gets a smiley face sticker for owning it and letting Plotkin go to town. Hell Fest is downright vicious, smashing heads with hammers and jabbing needles into eyes that look as revolting and disturbing as what you may have seen in Lucio Fulci’s Zombi. It nearly nails it if not for one major misstep in which a character escapes what would have been a theater-erupting death. To Plotkin’s credit, it’s used as a momentum-swinging set piece that delivers a hefty amount of tension and sets the third act into fervorous motion.
If there’s one problem with Hell Fest it’s the clunky writing (there are five credited writers) that tries so hard to unglue everything that’s working. Thankfully, Amy Forsyth, Taylor Reign Edwards and Bex Taylor-Klaus’ performances overcome the shoddy writing, with the latter being an instant shot of energy (cast her in everything, please).
The biggest struggle for Hell Fest is the fine line between being fun and violent, which ends up being a constant pull back and forth, just barely keeping its balance. Plotkin’s a little too good at building tension, which probably harkens back to his editor roots (his credits are impressive), and it often times comes off unintentionally mean-spirited.
Heavy spoiler warning. Speaking of, Hell Fest demands a second viewing mainly because of the film’s final scene. While it does set up a sequel, it also changes the viewing experience. For those seeking motive, you not only get one, but you also get a nasty uppercut of social commentary that’s echoed throughout the entire film: are we safe anywhere anymore? While Hell Fest may not actually be scary, the idea behind it is as frightening as anything you see in the news today.