Review: ‘Halloween Party’ (2020), starring Amy Groening and T. Thomason

October 21, 2020

by Carla Hay

T. Thomason and Amy Groening in “Halloween Party” (Photo courtesy of Red Hound Films)

“Halloween Party” (2020)

Directed by Jay Dahl

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed Canadian city, the horror flick “Halloween Party” features a predominantly white cast (with a few African Americans and Asians) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: Two college students find out that a computer meme has unleashed some vengeful spirits. 

Culture Audience: “Halloween Party” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind seeing sloppily made horror films with subpar acting.

A scene from “Halloween Party” (Photo courtesy of Red Hound Films)

“Halloween Party” is a horror movie that bit off more than it could chew. It clumsily handles two concepts, when there really only should have been one concept. Most of the movie’s acting is so bad, it’s more cringe-inducing than the movie’s intended scares.

Written and directed by Jay Dahl, “Halloween Party” starts out fairly promising, even though there are no original ideas in the movie at all. At first, it looks like the movie will be about a deadly computer meme, but then “Halloween Party” throws in an added concept about how the Canadian university campus where this story takes place used to be the site of a hospital filled with infected mutant children. Neither concept is executed well in this movie.

Movies like 2002’s “FeardotCom,” 2014’s “Unfriended,” 2018’s “Unfriended: Dark Web” and 2019’s “Countdown” are examples of movies that have already done the concept of computer online activity leading to mysterious and violent deaths. As for dangerous mutant children, there are plenty of movies that have this concept, such as 1979’s “The Brood” and 2008’s “The Children.” Unfortunately, “Halloween Party” is a shoddily made film that won’t even get cult status because much of the movie is so boring.

In “Halloween Party,” which takes place in an unnamed Canadian city, college roommates Grace (played by Amy Groening) and Zoe (played by Marietta Laan) come across a computer meme called Halloween Party that invites someone by name to a Halloween party. The catch is that the invited person has to type in his or her biggest fear within 30 seconds (there’s a countdown clock in the meme) or else that fear will come true.

This entire concept is flimsy from the start because it assumes that the meme knows how to read minds. If someone types in a joke or something that doesn’t sound like a real fear, the meme rejects it. Grace types that her biggest fear is “vagina spiders.” Zoe types in that her biggest fear is “pigs.”

Zoe then teases Grace by fabricating a childhood story about living near a farm where a famer was eaten by his pigs. When Grace falls for the story, Zoe laughs and tells Grace that she made it all up. And at this point, you know Zoe is going to die and there’s going to be some pig imagery involved.

Later in the story, it’s revealed that Grace’s fear of “vagina spiders” are because when she was a child, she had a stomach ache, and her older sister lied to her and said it was because spiders had crawled up her vagina and laid eggs there. It’s the type of bizarre story that would lend itself well to a horror movie with an offbeat or campy sense of humor. But the only attempt at humor in “Halloween Party” is some awkward banter between some of the characters.

Sure enough, when Zoe is shown at night at her job at a clothing retail store in a deserted shopping mall, she’s killed by a mystery intruder who’s been hiding in a back stock room. And he’s wearing a pig mask. The store was closed for the night, and the killer also murdered one of Zoe’s co-workers. And why couldn’t Zoe escape? Someone locked the front door so that everyone would be trapped inside. How convenient.

Grace is devastated by Zoe’s murder, and she wonders if the computer meme had something to do with it. And so, three weeks after the murder, Grace visits the campus computer tech club, where she meets Spencer (played by T. Thomason), who’s nicknamed Special, and has all the stereotypes of being a computer nerd. It doesn’t take long for Spencer to confirm that something sinister is definitely going on with that computer meme. Spencer and Grace don’t go to the police because they know what they believe will make them look crazy.

Grace and Spencer than discover secrets of the university campus and what went on in that hospital that did medical exams on the mutant children who lived there. The mutants were victims of a chemical leak in the 1980s from a placed called the Harton Hills Chemical Plant. The chemical leak affected newborns, which caused extra flesh to grow out of their bodies and other deformities. Because this movie isn’t very imaginative, it’s easy to figure out why there might be vengeful spirits lurking about on campus and elsewhere.

Much of the movie is about Grace and Spencer playing private detectives in trying to get to the bottom of the mysteries of the computer meme and the hospital that used to be on campus. During their investigation, a few more people die. And because Grace and Spencer spend so much time together, the movie’s tone rests largely on how Grace and Spencer’s relationship is depicted.

Groening has more acting talent than Thomason, but the scenes with both of them together aren’t very compelling, especially when the pace drags toward the middle of the film. Spencer makes little jokes to show that he’s attracted to Grace, but she definitely has him in the “friend zone.” Their banter is supposed to be mostly friendly, but with some underlying sexual tension because Spencer is attracted to Grace and doesn’t have any experiencing dating a girl.

There’s a meta moment where Spencer and Grace talk about being fans of 1980s “nerd” movies. Spencer says that he thinks of these films (such as any ’80s teen movie by John Hughes) as “will they fuck” movies, because there’s always a nerd who’s pining after an attractive girl. Spencer tells Grace that if they were in a movie, they could have that moment.

Grace and Spencer’s investigation eventually leads them to the home of two retired and married doctors who used to work at the hospital: Dr. Barbara Macail (played by Shelley Thompson) and Dr. Arthur Macail (played by Jeremy Akerman). This scene has some of the worst acting in the movie, particularly when Arthur, who’s an invalid hooked up to a respiratory machine with a speaking valve, has a seizure. Another badly acted scene is when Spencer is briefly at a daytime Halloween party, and he freaks out when he sees someone wearing a mask with a skull.

And, of course, it seems as if every movie that’s set in a college or high school has a student who acts like an arrogant big shot. In “Halloween Party,” that blowhard is Court (played by Scott Bailey), who has the obligatory sidekicks who follow his lead. The wingmen include Mike, nicknamed Fartparty (played by Zack Faye), and Darren “Bubbles” Danowsky (played by Taylor Olson). Just to make sure there are enough fart references for these guys, writer/director Dahl lets it be known in the movie that Bubbles got his nickname because when he was a kid, he liked to fart when taking baths. The world can now sleep better knowing this information.

The movie also some out-of-place montage editing in “Halloween Party” that’s supposed to look scary but it just looks like a choppy psychedelic trip, with quick-cut imagery of the “evil spirits” and “flashbacks to evil spirits.” There are parts of “Halloween Party” that have some fairly good cinematography, but other parts that look like something from a sloppy student film.

And let’s not talk about the disappointing and dumb ending. Anyone who watches “Halloween Party” and makes it that far will have to slog through a lot of tangents that this very disjointed movie makes. The computer meme concept was all this movie really needed, but to throw in a retro mutant concept just makes the story unnecessarily overstuffed. If you think this movie will have a big, frightful Halloween party scene, forget it. There is no such scene. The characters are too busy getting buried by a nonsensical plot in this bloated mess of a movie.

Red Hound Films released “Halloween Party” in select U.S. cinemas, digital and VOD on October 2, 2020.

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