REVIEW: Hell Fest (2018)

Theatrical Release Poster – Lionsgate / CBS Films

The following is a review of Hell Fest — Directed by Gregory Plotkin.

Editor-director Gregory Plotkin’s Hell Fest is a horror-slasher film set almost entirely in a horror-themed carnival complete with various haunted mazes and scare zones. The film follows three couples as they are stalked through the horror carnival by a masked serial killer in street clothes posing as a normal parkgoer.

I really like the concept of Hell Fest. This is a horror movie set in a location where a serial killer doesn’t look out of place and whose actions aren’t immediately taken at face value. I think that is a really smart idea — it could be anyone in the park. Not only that, but Hell Fest is an R-rated horror film set inside of a spooky theme park — thus opening itself up for the potential of some pretty effective scares and violent kills.

Unfortunately, I don’t think Hell Fest makes great use of its own concept. Although the killer’s mask is creepy, the slasher killer design is just so bland and uninteresting. While I like the idea behind what little we know about the killer at the end of the film, his look doesn’t do anything for me. Jeans, distinctive shoes, and a hoodie — that is pretty much it.

The character’s kills aren’t sufficiently imaginative or violent to be memorable. I started writing this review the day after I saw it in the theater, and what I really remembered about the kills were the many knife-to-the-chest scenes. There were times when I thought the killer’s modus operandi was quite interesting. For a while, it feels like the killer is only going after the parkgoers that steal or, in some way, make fun of or belittle the park’s attractions and scares. But they don’t really explain why the killer goes to the park, unfortunately.

To me, a new R-rated slasher film needs a neatly designed killer, imaginative kills, and fun characters to follow. Two out of three didn’t work as well for me as I had hoped. But I actually did like the characters, though. They are just the classic slasher film ‘horny teenagers,’ so these aren’t new ideas, really. But there wasn’t a character in the group that I disliked, and they were pretty much all fun to follow around — with Bex Taylor-Klaus’s Taylor and Roby Attal’s Gavin being particularly entertaining.

When I saw Hell Fest last night, it was in a completely empty theater. For some horror films that can be really effective, with the empty theater helping to create an atmosphere ideal for creepy films of the genre. But Hell Fest isn’t that kind of horror film. This is the kind of slasher film that needs an audience and, I’d say, would be much more fun with an audience.

Without the ideal environment for the film, its problems with pacing become much more obvious. Hell Fest is a 90-minute long slasher film with a neat concept, but the film lacks imagination and it, in general, becomes long-winded towards the end. The horror maze at the end should have been a highlight, but it, to me, became a bit of a bore.

I will say that Hell Fest has a lot of potential as a slasher franchise, and I could definitely picture the studio behind it being interested in making many more of these films. But if they want to succeed with this franchise, then they need to make much better use of the film’s brilliant concept and appropriate rating. Ultimately, that is what it comes down to, for me. Hell Fest is a missed opportunity as a slasher franchise-starter. Hell Fest doesn’t do enough with its concept, and, more than anything, it is extremely forgettable.

5 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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