(By Mark Gonzalez) If you have ever been driving on the highway and found yourself stuck behind a large, black party bus--glimpses of neon and bottles flashing through the window--and wished that every person inside that bus was dead, Bus Party To Hell might be the film for you. However, if you enjoy well-made films with plot points that are not homophobic, Bus Party To Hell is probably not the film for you...
...Bus Party To Hell is written and directed by Rolfe Kanefsky with a story by Michael and Sonny Mahal. This team produced 2016's Last Day of School, a comedy with an IMDB rating of 3.8. While some of the film's problems can be assigned to its low budget, most of the blame belongs to the writers and director. The structure is mostly sound and the concept is passable (people on a party bus are attacked by a cult and must stay alive) but the execution is repetitive and surprisingly amateur.
(SPOILERS AHEAD: YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED)
Our story begins with Tara Reid's Darby and Michael Forch's Lloyd limping through the Nevada desert and exchanging needlessly vague dialog about being pursued by mysterious killers. Darby, for no clear reason, betrays and kills Lloyd. Then, Lloyd's disembodied head taunts Darby before she runs deeper into the desert. In this quick scene, we are shown everything that will be wrong with the rest of the film: vague and cliché ridden dialog, disinterested acting, amateur visual effects, and unmotivated actions.
It should come as no surprise to the viewer that the film's biggest name (Reid, who is also credited as an Executive Producer) doesn't make it much more than 12 minutes into the movie before being needlessly dispatched. What is a surprise is that unlike, say, Drew Barrymore's death in Scream, Reid's entire storyline has seemingly nothing to do with the rest of the plot. To the average viewer, it is unclear whether the scenes with Tara Reid are an intentional misdirect or the result of incompetent story telling--the film is rife with both.
After Reid's pointless prologue and a credit sequence that seems to exist only to pad out the film's incredibly short run time of 75 minutes, we move to the sun scorched streets of Las Vegas. Here we find the film's main protagonist, Lara (played by Stefani Blake), as she is easily persuaded into riding a party bus to the Burning Man Festival in Southern California. Lara does not need much convincing and quickly joins the ride. What at first blush seems to be a poorly plotted scene soon reveals itself to be a character trait. Throughout the film, Lara is easily talked into doing just about anything and we see her float from one plot point to another, never taking any sort of initiative or showing any agency. Lara's lack of agency makes her an uninteresting protagonist, so much so that it is difficult to say if she actually is the film's protagonist. Yes, the movie mostly follows her journey and a lot of things happen to her but she does not make the decisions that are generally considered necessary for a protagonist so it is a bit hard to say if she actually is the film's hero. This is a terrible shame as Stefani Blake's performance is joyfully likeable and the film's strongest asset. The film's three writers simply do not know how to use this character in a meaningful or impactful way.
Once Lara hops on the dark, neon and booze soaked bus, the film begins in earnest. It is about this point in the film that we get our first glimpse of gratuitous nudity (of which there is plenty more to come). Coupled with the low production value and the poor quality of the acting, viewers would be forgiven for asking themselves, "Am I watching soft-core pornography?"
On the party bus, we meet fifteen or so festival goers and spend the next several minutes trying to guess which ones will be killed off quickly and which ones will live to be the core group of survivors. Hint: the least likable will be the survivors.
The bus stops on a secluded patch of road and a group of desert dwelling cultists attack the bus, killing most of the riders in a delightfully bloody scene. The survivors of the attack seek shelter in the party bus and try to figure out what to do next (as do the writers). Among this group of unlikeable survivors we have our protagonist (?), a big game hunter named Alan (Richard Hockman), the sexually liberated Ivy (Shelby McCullough), the utterly unremarkable Peter (Demetrios Alex), and the toxic couple Reese and Warren (Ben Stobber and ViDonna Michaels).
As we watch our band of misfits and assholes feebly battle back against the cultists, they are killed one by one while being entirely ineffectual. In a section of the film where we would expect to see the stakes rising and our characters formulating a plan with multiple steps, we only see variations on one plot point--cultists want in, festival goers don't want that to happen. Threats come and go away as quickly as they appeared and it becomes impossible to know what we are hoping will happen.
It is clear that much of the problems in the second act are budgetary in nature. The production could pay for a party bus for a set period of time and much of the film takes place in that single set. At first, it is exciting to see what path the film will take to tell its story in such a confined space. Who doesn't love a bottle episode of their favorite TV Series or a black box film? Unfortunately, this script does not muster the creativity necessary to deliver twists and surprises that would make this set-up worthwhile. Actions are repeated and characters go from one part of the bus to another and back again without much ever changing.
While the first two acts of the film are merely cheep and at times incompetent, it is in the last act that things become troubling. Without spoiling the ending, the final act of the film relies heavily on a surprisingly homophobic plot point that all of the characters (including a lesbian) do not question. In films of this nature, budgetary limitations can be forgiven and earnestness can make up for inexperience but shockingly offensive plot points are difficult to ignore.
Also, is sex with a minor inherently funny? This film says yes.
This film describes itself as a horror comedy and it is the comedy aspect where this film truly falls flat. The filmmakers have made the mistake of confusing sarcasm and pop culture references for jokes. All of the characters use the same breed of angry, bitter sarcasm and despite the efforts of the actors to give their characters some unique qualities, they all end up sounding the same. The characters are not unique, which is what you would hope to see from a film about strangers on a bus. They all seem to have the voice of their author.
Bus Party To Hell is a film that rejects the good will that its earnestness engenders with its needlessly mean spirited plot points and an ending that begs for a sequel that should never come.
By Mark Gonzalez