Four friends head to Hawaii to investigate reports of a haunting at an abandoned resort in hopes of finding the infamous Half-Faced Girl.
Finally accepting I won’t be leaving damp, chilly Britain for warmer climbs this summer, I was rather cheered by The Resort, a nifty 75-minute horror film where I could watch people younger and more beautiful than me having a terrible time on a stunning and near-deserted island off Hawaii.
This is low budget movie-making, and the choices writer-director Taylor Chien makes sometimes work and sometimes don’t. He also seems to lose the courage of his convictions near the end, shovelling on every possible horror trope rather than extending and developing a few (when a swam of birds arrived I was disappointed it didn’t form into the word RUN!). Despite this, and some rather confused exposition, it’s rather a jolly haunted house story, helped by eminently likeable characters even when they act in increasingly unlikely ways.
It’s Lex’s birthday, and her three friends Sam, Chris and Bree have arranged a trip to Hawaii. They’ve also planned a special off-piste trip to one of the islands, Kilahuna, where languishes an abandoned holiday resort — built in the 1990s, it closed after two years “due to a series of bizarre and inexplicable events”, especially in room 306.
Lex (Bianca Haase) is a writer, and the trip to find the ghosts — particularly the terrifying Half-Faced Girl — should provide her with the authentic details she needs. We find out about the hauntings through a YouTube video, a glorious example of manipulative creepiness that crams in too many paranormal visitations that don’t really make sense.
Sam (Michael Vlamis), with a prosaic explanation for every creepy experience, is the group’s disbeliever, after an upbringing drenched in religion. Bree (Michelle Randolph) is an Instagram obsessive; I doubt she’d be so excited about a trip to Transylvannia, considering vampires can’t be photographed. Chris (Brock O’Hurn) — a quietly spoken and extremely hot man-mountain with a luxurious mane of hair — is the dad of the group, sensible and protective. I’d be affronted if he allowed me to die on his watch, however terrible the monsters. (O’Hurn was originally discovered on Instagram putting his hair into a man-bun, and indeed he does sport one in The Resort, something I’d usually hope was an indication that they’d be first to die. He’s so endearing though that I quickly changed from man-bun mocker to eternal keeper of the man-bun flame.)
The Resort actually starts at the end, with one character waking in a hospital bed, having to explain the horrors they have been through to a concerned detective. These flash-forwards continue throughout the film, the hospital room setting presumably helping stretch the budget a little further.
It’s guilty of promising more than it delivers, sometimes accidentally — see the poster where a bloodied yellow room sign on a keyhole looks at first glance like a murderous Minion — though on the whole Chien does a decent job. Go with your expectations set at “overstuffed low budget horror” level and you should be reasonably satisfied.
It leans into many traditional horror tropes: tension building suddenly relieved, followed immediately by a jump scare; slo-mo bikini shots after a detour to a glorious waterfall. Sometimes it’s mocking and teasing. Sam promises a naked swim but once there he’s the only one who entirely strips off; the slow motion includes Chris shaking the water droplets out of that impressive mane like an updated Timotei advert.
The characters steer a course between knowing and stupid. Even the helicopter pilot, who we only see taking them to their island, is concerned for them but not too over the top.
The acting from all four leads is fine (Michael Vlamis reminded me off a young Alex Winter; O’Hurn is both genial and mesmerising.)
Some ideas don’t work. A spooky figure doesn’t look remotely scary, and a victim seized by two hands from behind looks as if they’ve been grabbed by a member of the production team. The music is initially well-used but becomes increasingly overblown and mismatched as the film progresses. Most of the effects budget has probably gone on one (impressive) set of close-up disgustingness. Until then, the horrors are often hard to make out in the gloom.
The resort itself is at its eeriest outside, huge and overgrown, and in the peeling bedrooms. This is the beachside version of urban exploring, and vast, abandoned modern buildings are in some ways even creepier than 500-year old-hovels. There’s a great shot from above of the hotel courtyard, strewn with palm fronds whitened by the sun, looking like bleached-out bones — a warning if ever there was one.
Once we’re at the running down dark corridors stage though, it starts resembling one of those spooky experience days you get in old shopping centres, populated by local unemployed actors dressed up as zombies.
Despite this, a lot of work (and much of the running time) goes into steadily building the tension before we even get to the haunted resort; and although that tension can’t bridge the gap left by the lack of visible horrors or original scares, overall The Resort does enough to reassure us that holidays can be as much about chills as chilling, and that all-inclusive may include demons as well as free drinks.
The Resort is vailable on Sky Store, Virgin, iTunes, Amazon, Microsoft Store, Google Play, and Chili
Watch the trailer now: