It’s a wonder that “holiday horror” isn’t a recognised subgenre given there are so many films about vacationing families, friends or couples coming up against a plethora of maniacal/supernatural rivals, as in the recent likes of You Should Have Left, The Rental, Koko-di Koko-da, Death of Me and Get In.
This latest, The Resort, centres on Lex (Bianca Haase), a writer and determined “final girl” type visiting a supposedly haunted resort on Hawaiian island Kilahuna, and with a group of friends in tow to celebrate her birthday. Lex wants to visit the island to conduct research for a writing project, but the group soon find themselves stalked and at the mercy of a skulk of malevolent spectres.
Supporting characters/genre stereotypes arise in the guise of Lex’s friends meat-head/jock douche with a heart of gold, Chris (Brock O’Hurn), the sarcastic, booze abusing Sam (Michael Vlamis) who has “dead” written all over him from the outset, and hollow backdrop occupant, Bree (Michelle Randolph).
After a limp but nifty set-up, once context and characters are established, the story unravels at a steady pace, aptly balancing progression and exposition, expanding backstories and developing characters efficiently enough to seed atmosphere and intrigue without seeming superfluous.
The script flits back and forth in time to a key character being questioned in a hospital bed, referring to the past events on the island. This shifts perspective and retains interest but ultimately detracts fear from later scenes where said character’s life is in peril, as we know they will survive.
The clan debate about the existence of ghosts, draw parallels with sleep paralysis, drift into an “is there a God?” dialog which feels deeper than it should be due to emerging from, initially perceived to be, B-movie stereotypes.
This exchange engages and helps us empathise with Lex and co, so should laden later frights with adequate clout, but what follows is executed in a manner that both wonders and confounds as The Resort keeps its beasties predominantly in the shadows.
Lex learns the Kilahuna locals consider the island sacred and cursed with war blood due to past tribal battles. The resort was then closed due to a spate of aggressive hauntings, and with the threat of a spectre called the “half-faced girl” entrenched, the film seems set to terrify in the second half.
Writer/director Taylor Chien resists adhering to tried/tested methods to terrify viewers (bar a dud jump scare in the opening act) yet slyly unnerves via subtle subversion in his second feature, which, while dotted with defects, wriggles under the skin enough to trigger the odd quiver.
Things get a bit too Blair Witch at times but Chien works wonders with a scanty budget and succeeds in fixing an unflinching grip on the viewer for most of its duration.
Despite lacking visual flair and major frights, The Resort admirably veers from tentpole ghost film tropes to incorporate classic 80s style monster movie moments. From pink neon lit face rips, recalling Stuart Gordon and Full Moon Picture flicks, which should placate gore hounds, to phantasmagorical beings you’d forgive for being a bit sloppily rendered as they gleam with puckish character and gnarly retro charm.