If you’ve ever seen the SyFy series Scare Tactics, you have to wonder to yourself, “What if they pranked the wrong person?” Pranks can and do go too far, sometimes you can never know how a person would react. What if you already knew that the person was a bit bonkers to begin with? It really wouldn’t be a good idea to toss that person into a situation where their worst fear or obsession comes to life. If they snap, who should be held responsible? Writer/director Lou Simon tries her best to pose these questions with her latest film HazMat. And thankfully, she mostly succeeds in delivering the chills in this fast-paced slasher.
“Scary Dave” (Todd Bruno) is the host of the prank show Scary Antics. It’s a reality show where friends put their loved ones into a scary scenario and sets them up to be pranked. Adam (Reggie Peters) wants to put his friend Jacob (Norbert Velez) on the show. Jacob is obsessed with an old chemical plant where his father once worked that he believes is haunted. Adam, along with Carla (Daniela Larez) and Melanie (Gema Calero) are responsible for putting him on the show. Aside from Adam, neither of the two girls really care for him much, since he’s just a little bit weird. Dave is trying to make this the best prank possible and his crew has cameras covering almost all of the old plant so they don’t miss a thing for the show. There’s some tension behind the scenes of the show as well. Make-up artist Brenda (Aniela McGuinness) wants to move up and Dave won’t let her for unknown reasons. When the prank starts, things don’t go exactly as planned and no one was prepared for what does happen. The hunt will begin!
HazMat has much going for it, in front of and behind the scenes. Director Simon keeps things short and sweet. The film moves along at a rapid pace and never allows the audience to drift off. It’s almost as if the film is split into two parts. The first half of the film deals with the execution of the prank while the second half is a fight for survival. It’s an inventive idea for what essentially is a slasher film. The movie uses a mixture of traditional filmmaking as well as cutting to what the Scary Antics cameras have caught. On a small budget, the film does tend to feel like it accomplishes much more that it should have. While I would have hoped for it to have been a bit bloodier, it still manages to deliver a couple of solid death scenes.
The acting from the cast was really spot on, especially from McGuinness and Bruno who lend some real emotional weight to their on-screen relationship. It’s sort of rare that a cast of unknown actors work so well together in an ensemble that it would be a shame to not feature them all in another project. The story works well and you never feel like stuff was added in for padding. The main problem for me, without spoiling anything, was that the climax was very underwhelming and unsatisfying. It ends rather abruptly and, at least for me, left me wanting something more.
As a whole, HazMat, is the perfect film to watch with a group of friends. Make a night of it and have a double or even triple feature of modern slasher flicks and it would make for a great evening. I was personally let down by the finale but I think many will be just fine with it. Lou Simon is an interesting filmmaker. Her first film The Awakened was a solid outing and HazMat proves that she wasn’t a one trick pony and out to improve herself with each new project. I’ll be looking forward to see what direction she takes from here. ***1/2 (out of 5)
Hazmat is now available on DVD per Uncork’d Entertaiment