In horror, there is a type of story that doesn’t appear too often, but whenever it does, I want to pull my hair out. The films I’m talking about are the ones where bullies literally bully someone to death, and then are treated as our protagonists when someone decides to take vengeance. Party Hard, Die Young is the latest to make me want to scream in all of the wrong ways…
…I was bullied for a huge chunk of my childhood, all the way up through high-school. And so I love a good vengeance story when it’s told through the victim’s eyes, such as in Carrie. But, when the bullies are the ones being treated as our “heroes” that we’re supposed to sympathize for while demonizing the bullied, well, that’s a whole other story, and one that I don’t care for.
Directed by Dominik Hartl (Attack of the Lederhosen Zombies) and written by Robert Buchschwenter and Karin Lomot, Party Hard, Die Young tells the story of Julia (Elisabeth Wabitsch) and friends, finally graduated and celebrating by partying their asses off on an island that looks like it’s managed by MTV. But when Julia’s best friend, Jessica (Antonia Moretti) goes missing and someone begins sending Julia menacing snapchat videos, she and her friends find themselves in danger of being partied to death by a masked killer.
Now, before I go on a rant about the characters, I want to mention that Hartl is a talented director, and it shows with Party Hard, Die Young. This film is stylistic, neon-lit terror set to the persistent tune of techno music. Frenetic ultra-colorful, Hartl tosses us into a youthful world of partiers that is beautifully shot and sleek as the sweaty bodies all crammed together on the dance floor. Hartl and Cinematographer Thomas W. Kiennast paint the screen with color like trance-inducing mood lighting that yanks you into the fun of it all because it’s just so unbelievably gorgeous. If you aren’t a fan of youth culture, you probably won’t dig the vibe being given in Party Hard, Die Young, but Hartl revels in the stylistic opportunities of the film, making us feel like we’ve just downed some LSD and are ready to get out there and shake our asses.
And then there’s the characters, and one of the major problems with Party Hard, Die Young: for the most part, they’re all assholes. Julia, though not outwardly a terrible person, is a terrible friend to Jessica, one of the only likeable people in the whole damn thing who disappears far too early. Surrounding Julia are your average deusch bros and mean girls, with nothing but sex on the brain, even despite the knowledge that their friends are dying (one moment in which a guy tries to fuck Julia after she discovers something heartbreaking is particularly maddening). Few of the cast stands out, making it even more difficult to care with arguably one too many characters to keep track of. Really the only one I found myself rooting for was Carmen (Chantal Zitzenbacher), who gets a surprisingly body positive message moment that declares bigger girls are sexy too, and rubs it in the faces of the skinny jerks who think otherwise. And look, I can deal with paper-thin, stereotypical slasher characters that are all too uninteresting and common now, but Party Hard, Die Young takes it a step further that makes it near impossible to sympathize with these people the way we’re supposed to: Julia and her friends are bullies.
Without spoiling much, let’s just say that, through a series of snapchat videos and other means, Julia and co. slowly begin to unravel the mystery of the smiley-faced masked killer picking them off, and learn that it has something to do with something awful they all did to a girl from their past. At one point, someone references the film I Know What You Did Last Summer, and in a lot of ways, Party Hard, Die Young is clearly inspired by the popular 90s slasher. But, whereas those characters actually regretted what they did last summer, Julia and the others don’t really seem to give a shit. And if you’re thinking well that’s the point, it’s fun to watch a killer pick off jerks like this and teach them a lesson, let’s just say, you’re going to be extremely disappointed by the ending.
Party Hard, Die Young is, quite simply, mindless spring break horror. Like I said, if you find youth culture obnoxious, you’re going to hate the characters, and probably the killer too, who spends their time sending snapchat images of victims, which is sillier than it is ominous. And for all of the adrenaline pumping music, this stalk and slash lacks a good amount of stalking and slashing, with kills that come quick and viciously without any real suspense, though the deaths themselves are violent and gory. For those like myself that can’t stand the people in Party Hard, Die Young, there’s at least some satisfaction in some of the ways these characters meet their bloody ends, like some good old fashioned bottle deep-throating that brings a new meaning to chugging.
Like most parties, Party Hard, Die Young begins to run out of what little steam it has by the end, culminating in a beyond frustrating finale that sends an awful message about bullying that will get you drunk on rage-ahol and have you wanting to chuck your TV out the window. Party Hard, Die Young is sleek and full of visual style that recalls mid-90s slashers, but without the fun of those films or the endearing characters, you’ll have a better time sitting at home in your PJs by yourself watching your favorite horror film for the thousandth time. Give me that kind of party over this any day.
Party Hard, Die Young hits the dance floor TOMORROW on Shudder.
By Matt Konopka