Hell Fest (2018)

In theaters: Hell Fest (2018)

Here’s something that we haven’t seen in a while: a non-nostalgic teen slasher date movie that isn’t anywhere close to being aware of itself.

Poster
Hell Fest (2018)
Hell Fest (2018)

The plot, not that it matters much, is this. Natalie (Amy Forsyth) has been coping with some problems, maybe at home, maybe at school, maybe with both. I didn’t catch what. Her friends, in an effort to draw her out, have invited her to a fun-filled weekend, I think, that they’re kicking off with a visit to Hell Fest, a haunted attraction the size of Disneyland, with multiple zones, carnival games, at least one show venue, five-dollar pretzels, and hundreds of wandering, fright-faced actors with different levels of access to you—touch, no touch—depending on whether you signed a waiver. One of these actors is an actual mass murderer who takes a liking to Natalie early on and stalks her through the park while doing his kill-happy thing.

It’s the sort of movie that you can miss half of because you’re getting busy with your date and still follow along and still have a good time. Watching it with a group of friends might be the best way to get the most enjoyment out of it. Careful, thoughtful solo moviegoers are sure to find some bones to pick. There’s not as much blood as I thought that there would be, and there aren’t that many set-piece kills, and only one of them is what I’d call spectacular, and it comes too early in the body count. And we spend too much time literally doing Hell Fest—running the mazes, riding the rides, even (and more than once) waiting in line—as if we, too, had VIP passes. This does mean that we catch the great Tony Todd’s floor show. The bad news is, it isn’t that good.

Director Gregory Plotlkin builds tension well but doesn’t always know what to do with it, but give him a couple sequels to direct, and he’ll have worked out the kinks in his technique. I wasn’t crazy, either, about the gauzy neon lighting that follows the characters everywhere (except the restroom). The teen banter, though, is uniformly excellent.