Party Hard, Die Young (2018) Directed by Dominik Hartl. During the summer between high school graduation and freshman year of college, a group of Austrian teenagers party in Croatia and meet a costumed killer from their past. Filmed in Novigrad, Croatia.
We open in the middle of a neon-drenched EDM music festival. The hundreds of swaying bodies and lifted arms form a single shifting organism in the electric pink night. Everyone is drunk, particularly our heroine Julia. She and her best friend Jessy came to the X-Jam Music Fest in scenic Croatia to unwind before beginning their college careers. Their circle of friends includes geeky horndog Cheesy, bitchy diva Denise and bulky jock Luki. On the first night, Julia has had enough of vomiting and seeing double, and wanders into the misty forest that borders the festival grounds. The paths through the trees are lit with ghostly blue neon tubes, lending the woods an air of surrealistic beauty. Julia passes out among the foliage and comes to some time later. She witnesses an equally intoxicated Jessy stumbling around in the dark, until a figure wearing a rotting smiley face mask intercepts her.
In the morning, Julia is hungover and uncertain of exactly what she saw. But one thing is clear: Jessy is missing. A text arrives from Jessy’s phone, implying that she spent the night making love, and another text leads Denise away from the safety of the group. She receives an old SnapChat video showing a younger version of herself placing a smiley face mask on a girl at a party, and then she encounters the equally smiling killer.
The video, recorded at a party years before, seems to point to a misfit classmate named Anna. She was a plain and awkward teenager who was desperate to be accepted by the in-crowd and harbored a crush on one of the popular boys. During a game of Truth Or Dare, Anna was forced by Denise to wear a smiley face cloth mask that covered her eyes before being sent into a basement storage room. She would be followed by male partygoers and have to guess who they were by their scent and feel. Her inebriated followers, however, wanted more from Anna than just to be identified.
During her assault, one of the two boys raping Anna in the storage room whispered:
“Get over it. It’s already in.”
So you can imagine exactly what phrase the mysterious killer is dying to say to the rapists after ramming a knife deep inside. And yes, this happens. It’s quite satisfying.
The X-Jam Music Fest is run by a harried DJ named Felix and his army of uniformed employees, known as Gang X. The highest priority functions of Gang X are to make sure the kids get back to their sleek and ultramodern hotel every night safely, and that no one dies. They fail with gusto on both fronts, as bodies start dropping left and right.
Julia does meet one member of the festival team, Leo, who is sympathetic to her plight. As the authorities either hone in on the wrong suspects or completely ignore Julia’s fears of a serial killer, Leo actually attempts to help unmask the vengeful maniac. Clues emerge through social media posts and a secret diary kept by Anna that points to the murderer.
Party Hard, Die Young does a couple of things right:
1) It’s one of the most visually impressive slasher films I’ve seen in quite a while. This is not a sub-genre typically associated with epic visual appeal, but the exotic beauty of the Croatian beachfront and the eerily lit all-night parties create a distinctive atmosphere. We’ve seen hundreds of slasher films set at celebrations, but we haven’t seen one set at the most massive monster party of all time. The bulk of the celebrants remain unaware throughout the film of the murders and continue wildly enjoying themselves. This blissful ignorance creates logistical issues for both the would-be victims and their stalker. In one sequence, the killer attempts to cross a packed dance floor while hunting prey and the flailing bodies of celebrants slow him down.
2) It does a nice job of keeping the viewer guessing with a couple of juicy red herrings and caps off all the misdirection with a sensible and logical reveal. We understand the killer’s motivations and the blame shared by the group of teens at the center of the story. We understand his or her absolute disgust at the idea that the popular kids cared so little about the fate of someone who didn’t fit in and sought only to enjoy the biggest party of their lives. It was their desire for drunken abandon and drugged-out sex that allowed the killer to strike without much resistance.
Never screw somebody over and then get wasted for a week.
When all is said and done, what does the masked killer want with Julia and her friends? To play a second game of Truth Or Dare. And this time, all the answers lead to death.
Like Sophia Takal’s ill-fated 2019 “Black Christmas” remake, Party Hard deals with sexual assault and its traumatic aftermath. Unlike that film, it doesn’t demonize every male character in making its point. This Austrian slasher isn’t going to reinvent the sub-genre or blow anyone’s mind, but it is very much the heir apparent to whodunit slashers like 1981’s “Happy Birthday To Me.” Despite the prominent use of smartphone technology and SnapChat, this is a true old fashioned throwback murder mystery set amongst flashing lights and dancing bodies. I would much rather experience a solidly constructed slasher film that harkens back to simpler times than sit through 90 minutes of modern political agenda poorly disguised as entertainment. It’s still okay for a movie to just be fun, and this one parties hard.
Body count: 5
- A woman is stabbed offscreen. Her bloated body is later discovered in the ocean.
- A woman is impaled on a scaffolding support strut.
- A man has a bottle of liquor rammed down his throat.
- A woman has her throat slashed.
- A man has his throat slashed.