A slasher that aims for the waist instead of the throat, Hell Fest is almost admirably unambitious in this era of elevated horror reinvention. Almost. As beholden to its setting as to its elevator pitch, it is, wholly, “slasher in a horror theme park,” taking us through a murderous night as on-rails as its spooky train rides.
It’s almost brilliant—again, stress on almost—that Hell Fest is itself a sort of horror park simulacrum, an exhibition of familiar genre tropes recycled night after night. Its thin plot focuses on a strait-laced coed, her love interest that looks so much like an American Pie extra that you’ll swear this was a period piece until the first smartphone, and two other college-aged couples. They’re all attending the titular event, a massive festival composed of carnival games and escalating levels of ghastly mazes. Lurking among all the minimum wage-paid staff: a serial killer of the most generic Shape—a hulking, supernaturally powerful white guy in a Halloween mask who somehow manages to sneak/catch up to victims despite his painfully deliberate lumbering. Slightly differentiating him from Michael Myers, this guy’s uneven-eyed mask looks like Sloth from Goonies as an overcooked pizza. Also, ugh, he occasionally hums “Pop Goes the Weasel.”
Despite a runtime of under 90 minutes, Hell Fest is nonetheless almost as plodding as its store-brand slasher villain. The entire thing manages not even a handful of kills, filling its gaps with banter that ranges from aimless improv to a Hallmark Channel original’s clumsy idea of flirting. A few decently tense set pieces and literally two deaths gruesome (and cool) enough to warrant the R rating are all that keep this thing from being completely forgettable, a scarcely bloodied needle lost in the hay of a more enjoyable haunted ride.
Director: Gregory Plotkin
Studio: CBS Films, Lionsgate
Runtime: 89 minutes
Cast: Amy Forsyth, Reign Edwards, Bex Taylor-Klaus, Christian James, Matt Mercurio, Roby Attell, Tony Todd