Festival Screenings – 30th October 2016
General UK Release Date – 11th July 2017
AKA – Beauty Queen Massacre
I guess it was inevitable that the post Scream slasher era of the 1990s would be looked at with nostalgic eyes one day. After all the ’80s revival has been going for a long time now, without any obvious end in sight. So here right away you can see on some promotional artwork that they’ve utilised the classic bad floating heads poster style from the likes of I Know What You Did Last Summer and its ilk. We’re also treated to yet another ghost faced killer on the loose. Whether this era of horror films has real staying power probably depends on your personal preference and your history with viewing this sort of thing when it was new. But the real question to be asked here is if this sort of by the numbers stalker in the house story should be made at all if there’s nothing new being added to the formula.
Writer’s margin comment – normally technical elements would be remarked on, however this review is based on an early preview without a proper sound mix; bad temp music and sound posed a problem and it’s all in dire need of time in the ADR suite to clean up live noise and dialogue. Hopefully this is all fixed for the final cut.
After their school prom a young couple find themselves getting all hot under the collar in a parked car. However their antics are soon interrupted by a gang of masked figures who stab the young man (Alex Sawyer). His date runs from the scene – only to be hit by a passing car. This accident results in the true situation being revealed; it was a prank by the boy’s friends, who then panic and try and cover things up. Frankie (Becky Fletcher) takes the fall for pushing Lorraine (Georgina Dugdale) into the road, and she goes to prison when nobody else will stay at the scene or give evidence. 8 years later Frankie has done her time and a reunion is planned at a remote countryside house. It’s soon very apparent someone has a grudge against the reunited class mates. But if their victim was left in a wheelchair who is targetting them? A night of bloody revenge is soon underway whatever the motivation of the antagonist is.
In a second prologue one week before the school friends get together, someone using one of the same masks from the prank is shown to be on the prowl. A mystery box containing some creepy dolls and a yearbook photo album shows up on the doorstep of the party location, and the two hosts quickly fall into the hands of a hooded figure… or figures. Seven days later the rest of the gang arrive to kiss and make-up, though it’s clear that animosity amongst them hasn’t faded over time. These people don’t seem to get along even as friendly acquaintances, never mind the sort of bosom buddies who would hide facts from the police and keep quiet about a serious matter for all this time.
The characters soon bicker and argue about who killed who rather than making normal amiable chit chat. This resent filled atmosphere highlights the problem that none of them are distinctive or charismatic enough to be sympathetic victims when the blood finally starts to pour. Some are just slightly more rude and obnoxious than others. As the soap opera melodrama plays out none of them come across as wanting to get together and have a good time in the first place. Which is a little strange considering the pre-arranged situation, not to mention the amount wine they drink. I was reminded of similar problems with You’re Next which had the excuse of being centred around an argumentative family who actively dislike each other. It also worked as a horror film.
While more mystery boxes and dolls show up to frighten the guests, there’s no real sense of production design or creativity involved; it just feels quickly slapped together. A little flair in the packaging and the toys inside might have provided far more creepiness. The same problem can be seen in the cheap white masks being used; it’s a really bland and unoriginal design. These could be a solid focal point with a little imagination, after all sinister porcelain faces are a well worn trope. But there’s nothing truly memorable about any of this to distinguish it from the current crop of horror or as a genuine love letter to anything from the past.
This lack of craft follows through into the slasher deaths. There’s a surprisingly small amount of suspense and no interesting or memorable horror moments. Spending so much time on the weak performances doesn’t build tension and subsequently impact and shock value are totally absent. Instead it just boils down to petty domestic disputes that are interrupted every so often by kills that have no style or bite. Even the camera work is mostly the same repetitive medium shots and close ups which drains all the atmosphere away. It begs the question what shooting in 4K was meant to achieve or what they did during the 20 days of shooting.
Eventually the plot twists and reveals you’re anticipating are introduced, but they don’t have any really exciting set pieces or chases to hold them together inside the flimsy narrative. It’s desperately in need of some personality or even just some good old cheesiness to be injected to the proceedings, but it’s consistently bland and tedious. The last stretch does have a couple of moments that could have been effective when noises from the basement are investigated and the guests finally put on their party hats at the dinner table. But it’s too little too late. Revenge is only ever as interesting as the surrounding elements in a story like this. It’s the oldest motivation out there, so a little pizazz would go a long way. Ultimately this a pale imitation of past experiences. Like any exercise in homage; if you’re going to wear your influences on your sleeve, it better be a damn fine outfit. Third rate hand me down efforts like this just don’t cut it.