Sunday 18 November 2018

"Hell Fest" (Guardian 16/11/18)

Hell Fest **
Dir: Gregory Plotkin. With: Amy Forsyth, Reign Edwards, Bex Taylor-Klaus, Tony Todd. 89 mins. Cert: 18

Assigned a title in which a masked killer stalks teens around pumpkins, the distributors of this thick slice of Scooby-Dooism presumably elected to give David Gordon Green’s Halloween redo some space. That it now opens a full fortnight after its October 31st setting can be taken as indication of what a non-urgent proposition it is. The USP of Gregory Plotkin’s slasher – which won’t feel terribly unique to anyone with a passing knowledge of the Tobe Hooper oeuvre, or the various Houses of Wax – is that these teens are chased through a morbidly dressed fairground. Sometimes, then, the ghouls leaping on our heroes – to the inevitable rasping soundtrack farts – are actors playing actors playing hellfiends; sometimes, it’s the killer himself. It is not the most complex horror movie you’ll ever see.

It does, however, comprise a modest progression for editor-turned-director Plotkin, previously responsible for overseeing the mind-numbingly uneventful Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension. Here, Plotkin veers towards the opposite extreme: this ever-manic, semi-jokey runaround is approximately 98% production and costume design. His collaborators come through for him, filling the frame with malevolent mazes, ghoulish ghost trains, possibly even a diabolical hook-a-duck if you look closely enough. Yet evidently the set came first, and the casting and script issues were pushed a long way down the pre-production agenda. We may as well be following these characters on the park’s CCTV system for all that we identify with them, or involve ourselves in their plight.

Its crassness at least raises odd chuckles, as in one crash cut that carries us from a head being smashed in with a mallet to the bell being rung on a strength-o-meter. Yet erstwhile Candyman Tony Todd’s cameo as the park’s resident barker only points up how this hokey carnival strain of horror has drained the genre of its best and most insidious ideas, those fears that might keep grown-ups awake at night. Plotkin’s relentless button-pushing, coupled to the script’s cringe-inducing yooftalk, instead mark Hell Fest as unmistakably the work of middle-aged execs trying to jab suggestible teenagers back into cinemas – and what they’ll witness there is many degrees less skin-crawling than their dads singing Ariana Grande tunes while doing the washing-up. 

Hell Fest is now playing in cinemas nationwide.

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