[Salem Horror Fest] 'Mass Hysteria' is a hysterical look at the influence of group mentalities
Having played at the Salem Horror Festival this past Thursday, Mass Hysteria sets a creepy mood right away with the sounds of crows, foreboding music, and the imagery of dead leaves and crow body parts falling onto said leaves…
…The filming of Mass Hysteria took place completely in the city of Salem, Massachusetts and depicts a modern-day witch hunt between Salem Witch Trial re-enactors and the visiting tourists. Frequently today the term “witch hunt” becomes thrown around and often with little thought of where the term came from or what it actually means, but this film demonstrates the origin of the term and how group mentality (and Facebook) can perpetuate such hatred. The psychology and actions which unfold strongly mimic the behaviors witnessed in actual witch hunts, but the directors introduce enough comedy into the film to keep the viewers from experiencing flashbacks to their high school reading assignment of The Crucible.
Directors Arielle Cimino and Jeff Ryan (Youthmin) waste little time showing the opposing interests of the Salem Witch Trial re-enactors and the ungrateful, uncaring audience members the troop attempts to entertain. Lead re-enactor Paige (Geena Santiago), recently accepted a role in New York, so the film begins with her readying herself for her final performance with the troop. Her excitement for becoming a big-time actress effectively distracts her from all the obviously placed (most of it comically) bad luck tropes and images of death which parade past her and her best friend, Turner (Ryan). Including Turner, the list of re-enactors contains a nervous director and a cast full of quirky and even creepy members, which makes for an overall entertaining cast of characters.
The group of performers holds a passion for the history, accuracy, and talent showcased in their play, but the onlookers prefer to drink beer and treat their visit to Salem as the fall version of a Cancun spring break. The group of tourists arrive in three distinct groups: bumblebee wearing bridal party, stereotypical fraternity bros, and leather-clad Austrians. With the arrival of the Halloween break wannabes, the local doomsday preacher condemns both the tourists and the re-enactors for their sins and warns everyone of impending doom.
Regardless of the appearance of obnoxious tourists and threats against people’s eternal souls, the show must go on. However, during Paige’s final performance as the accused witch, the re-enactment becomes a bit too real and an audience member dies. Then, due to mass hysteria created by the preacher (and a bit of alcohol), the tourists become convinced Paige actually can conjure magic.
As the tourists become sicker and sicker from an unknown contagion, their frustration and fear grow as they look for an answer. With the bridal party, frat boys, and Austrians so physically and mentally weak, the overzealous religious leader swoops in and harnesses the vulnerability of the tourists as a means to battle his original adversaries: the Salem Witch Trial re-enactors. With the preacher now leading the way, the witch hunt can officially begin.
Shot almost completely at night the scenes play a lot with darkness and figures half-masked in shadows, but the overall tone of the show never quite gets to scary or even creepy. Even though the story touches on some important psychological points and conjures up some events from American history, do not go into this film expecting anything beyond a Shaun of the Dead level of parody (which is a perfectly enjoyable type of movie). Lots of references to other films, such as Top Gun, The Shinning, and Mad Max: Fury Road not only add a ton of Easter Eggs for the avid movie-goer, but also brings a fun level of satire to the hunt. Mass Hysteria plays the role of a fun horror parody, but also serves as a reminder of some of the more sinister behaviors of humankind.
By Amylou Ahava
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