This campus-set horror movie pairs up a couple of well-worn themes – an internet meme curse and worst fears coming to life – but then brings on a much more interesting rationale for the gory goings-on … with the clever stroke that characters who start out with fairly conventional fears (bears, spiders, pig-men) eventually shift to find out that there’s something out there that scares them much more.
Writer-director Jay Dahl keeps dialogue and character stuff sparking as the mystery unfolds, with appealing performances from Amy Groening – as concerned student Grace – and T. Thomason – as self-aware computer geek Spencer – in what the script refers to as the ‘will they fuck’ roles of the oddly-matched pair who have to get together because they are the first to realise that the deaths are connected and that there’s a deeper, darker story beyond an invasion of pig-men or the materialisation of urban legend child molester the Tall Man. The ‘Halloween Party’ turn out to be quite disturbing creations, with striking make-up design, though the film walks a knife-edge between empathising with a bunch of marginalised victims who have good cause to spread horror and death via an email quiz joke and literally demonising the unfortunate.
It has a broad strokes vision of university tribalism, with a heroine shrinking from a ‘bro infestation’, but takes care to give even the walk-on victims a little more depth than usual … the smug jock who has to admit to his shameful worst fear (‘alcoholic mother’) to save his own life is an especially smart little bit of writing/playing, solidly embedded in plot development as his friends misinterpret Spencer’s genuine liefsaving concern as cruelty and then hold him down while the quiz plays out – if it’s not answered in time, the worst fear manifests and murders the addressee – just so they get to see a crude animated witch and in effect doom everyone in the room. Familiar face Shelley Thompson – remember Mike & Angelo? – is the exposition-dispensing elder, and gives the backstory some heft. And, it bears repeating – those Halloween Party characters are really disturbing to look at.