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Simon Read [Celluloid 06.25.18] horror

Blood Fest is a horror-comedy from writer/director Owen Egerton. The film treads a well-worn path as three geeky film fans attend a horror convention in the woods, only to find themselves fighting for their lives when actual monsters attack and the 'Blood Fest' truly begins.

Despite spirited performances from the young cast, some slick direction from Egerton, and lots off quick-fire gags, the film ultimately struggles make much of an impact. The overall impression is one of a kid in the playground who really wants to be your best friend, but in the process comes across as desperate and annoying.

As a child, Dax (Robbie Kay) witnessed his mother's murder at the hands of a machete-wielding psychopath on Halloween night. Now a college student and video-store clerk, he immerses himself in horror movies as a way of dealing with this past trauma. Forbidden from attending Blood Fest, the world's most elaborate horror convention, by his overprotective father, he nonetheless sneaks into the party with the help of his friends Krill (Jacob Batalon, Spider-Man: Homecoming) and Sam (Seychelle Gabriel, The Last Airbender). Here they meet up with aspiring actress Ashley (Barbara Dunkelman) and her director boyfriend Lenjamin (Nicholas Rutherford) for a night of spooky fun.

No sooner have the festivities begun, when suddenly the convention's flamboyant master of ceremonies (Egerton) unleashes hoards of (very real) horror movie villains into the crowd, filming the carnage which follows - his own twisted idea to create the ultimate horror film. Dax and his gang must fight their way through the various levels, or genres, of the convention in order to escape, using their expert knowledge of horror films to their advantage as they take on hordes of zombies, evil puppets, and insane, axe-happy clowns.

Blood Fest starts off at a running pace and never really slows down for breath, and this might be part of the problem. The characters are introduced very quickly, their personalty traits written in shorthand. Dax has a good heart, but is troubled. Sam is in love with him, but can't admit her feelings. Krill is a total virgin, and he loves boobs. The result then is a group of characters that we don't relate to in any significant way; their arcs might well be tattooed on their foreheads.

Similarly, the tone of the film is so lightweight and sarcastic that we don't invest for a moment in what's going on. Characters come and go, they're dispatched in a predictable order and in bloody and gruesome ways, and while the audience might laugh along with this for a while, there is no sense of peril or consequence. The film wants to appear smart by breaking the fourth wall, allowing characters to turn our way and smirk before they're messily decapitated, but this type of humour cannot sustain a ninety minute film. At first the sense of superficiality is kind of liberating - the movie just wants us to have fun - but after an hour or so we crave something more substantial. There is a distinction between a film being undemanding, and simply being flimsy and stupid, and it feels like Blood Fest missed its mark on this, forgetting the golden rule that just because something is loud, doesn't mean that it's funny.

There is some fun to be had here, and the audience seemed to enjoy the film for the most part, but I have to admit I only laughed once, at a well-timed non-sequitur reference to Jurassic Park. I kept wondering what Blood Fest was missing that had made 'Cabin in the Woods' work so well. Plot-wise, they are extremely similar (there's even a control room featuring bored technicians watching the unfolding violence with shrugging ambivalence) but 'Cabin...' is a far superior effort. Why? That film took some time to introduce us to its characters, and while they may have been archetypes, to the extent that this was even a major plot-point, they were also individuals, and smart people. When they died it meant something to us, and we wanted them to win. Blood Fest's gang on the other hand never truly develop nor surprise us, and this keeps them at arm's length. They exist to adhere to genre cliches, albeit with a knowing wink, and to either die horribly or survive. The wink itself does not excuse this laziness. Seriously, by the time the 'Stupid Jock' had his penis bitten off by the 'Sexy Vampiress', I was done caring.

As a diverting, quick-fix dose of goofy horror-comedy, Blood Fest isn't exactly bad. You might enjoy seeing some things you've not seen before, such as what happens when zombies and psychotic clowns engage in an elaborate death match ("I always like a genre mash-up!"), but don't enter into this one expecting anything particularly smart or original.

Recommended Release: Cabin in the Woods

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