Written by: Seth M. Sherwood, Blair Butler, Akela Cooper
Starring: Amy Forsyth, Reign Edwards, Bex Taylor-Klaus, Tony Todd, Matt Mercurio, Roby Attal
Scheduling and paying money to go to a place designed to scare you may be one of the most masochistic things we do as humans, for fun nonetheless. Something that if you describe to an alien would land with nothing but befuddlement. I’m also not in a place to judge because my wife and I try to go to one each year, often paying top dollar to do so because of the adrenaline rush it provides. Places where employees hope to scare the living daylights out of you and are paid to do so. Masked to conceal their identity and present themselves as scary figures. The perfect breeding ground for a slasher, but unfortunately Hell Fest squanders it with its putrid storytelling.
Reuniting with her estranged long-time friend, Natalie (Amy Forsyth) gets invited to attend a traveling roadshow Hell Fest where you can experience all sorts of scares and thrills. Initially hesitant, she ends up going and unknowingly does not realize her friend, Brooke (Reign Edwards) is trying to set her up with her boyfriend’s roommate. As they arrive, at one of the attractions they notice something looking too similar to murder and figure out there’s an actual killer on the loose.
The lack of success of this film is aggravating because it contains so much potential. The idea of having an actual killer on the loose within a scary attraction like Hell Fest makes for such a fun concept. With everything there meant to scare its patrons, it would not take much for them to let their guard down for an actual murderer who goes for the kill. With all employees in scary masks, distinguishing the killer could be an impossible feat, which are aspects this film plays into but it just completely fumbles the bag in putting it all together.
Mistakes in creating something riveting occur right from the beginning with the characters. Now, I understand a facet of slashers is having somewhat unlikeable characters in order for us to oddly root for their deaths. I see this as something for a few of them, but this feature fails in making at least one likable character to even begin with. What makes Halloween great is our connection to Laurie and the fear we have of her dying at the hands of The Shape. Through small moments, we learn more about her but none of this comes to fruition with a single character in Hell Fest. Not with the protagonist and especially not with the characters we certainly wish could die simply from being incredibly annoying. If pushing buttons was the purpose, then they succeeded but not for the betterment of the film.
Unsurprisingly, the best aspect of the feature came in the production design of this park and it’s absolutely sensational. The level of detail in creating this park shows the wonders and terrors that could be inflicted for the purposes of entertainment. Each ride feels like something feasible folks would be attracted to and sets the stage for the horror unfolding. Unfortunately, with the wonderful surroundings built for this killer to have its fun, the kills were fairly boring and not very creative. When you have a world like this to play in I hope for it to be utilized better than the filmmakers did in this feature. Most of it felt so uninspired.
Another issue comes in the look of this killer. Definitely trying to emulate Michael Myers but with no added flair to it. As a result, it feels like a cheap knock-off version of what someone like Michael Myers would do if he happened to go to a haunted amusement park. The look of this character pretty much summarizes the biggest issue it had. It wants to have this gritty feel with such a bland killer while also trying to be stupid like a B-movie. That becomes incredibly clear in a moment where Natalie and Brooke try to find an exit and run directly inside an in-door attraction. The script could not possibly be that dumb, which makes it apparent this feature wants to have some fun, but they never really go all the way with it. Instead, we have a boring killer going around slashing people amidst a very exciting atmosphere.
Hell Fest may serve as a good and easy time for fans of the slasher subgenre of horror, but as a feature film, it leaves plenty to be desired. It’s quite aggravating because the concept of it is amazing in the way a killer could easily navigate a space like this to their advantage. The filmmakers had all of the ingredients but let them spoil from their lack of ambition through their storytelling. I hope someone else takes this setting and does something worthwhile because the potential certainly exists, but does not get realized in this bad film.