Sometimes you just need a good slasher. While we’ve shifted focus to films that pick at the human psyche and live in the genre of social horror, every now and then, it’s nice to find a film that leans into obscene kills and a scared party of people running for their lives. I know it sounds weird, but the hack and slash of horror has its place. If new slashers take a lead from Party Hard, Die Young, the subgenre is good hands.
Party Hard, Die Young, directed by Dominik Hartl, is a Shudder Original German-language film that uses the very real EDM festival X-Jam as a backdrop. Filmed on location at X-Jam Croatia, the opening of the film sets the tone. Festival goers are packed close together feverishly dancing in what may be excitement or a Molly-induced hype. But, instead of pulsating electronic music, we get the shrill sounds of a slasher mapped onto what would otherwise be a scene of excitement. Then the blood comes and the music choice makes sense the path of the film is set.
Having just graduated high school, Julia (Elisabeth Wabitsch) and her friends are in Croatia’s X-Jam for what is supposed to be the party of their lives. Alcohol, sex, drugs, the beach, and music is all they care about. Well, until they start dropping like flies. Party Hard, Die Young is very much a traditional slasher. That being said, X-Jam as a setting does a lot to ground the film against existing tropes. In slashers, the party animals are the ones who deserve to die and the final girl is set against them in her innocence. But instead of placing the final girl outside the rest of the cast from the get-go, Julia is just like the rest of them.
One of the explanations for the drought of traditional slashers is the new technology around us. Phones give away our location, they document our moves, and with social media, we share almost every piece of information that we can. Party Hard, Die Young leans into social media, using it as a narrative device to deliver exposition and turn up the tension. As Jessie begins to receive Snapchat messages of her friends’ faces with an “x” over them, she begins to question everything around her.
Hartl uses a traditional camera to tell the story but used the social media accounts of the characters as exposition. The choice to show phone screens while scenes continue in the background (featured above) keeps the viewer in the film while also serving as a tool to transition scenes. In some scenes, we see what is being recorded on a phone placed on top of an existing scene and in others we get a phone’s eye view. This use of technology pulls the slasher into our current technological era, leading people to their deaths with text messages and sharing the tension via Snapchat.
The first death in Party Hard, Die Young is tense, driving you to think it’s going left and then it goes right. The first on-screen death is creative, not in its gore, but in its method. The film avoids traditional slasher deaths that show people not fighting back or not thinking with self-preservation at the forefront of their actions. Here, we see the victim fight back, flee, almost survive, and ultimately cause her own death more than the killer does. The deaths that follow, centered around a big secret the group is hiding, are just as creative, not only in the final kill shot but also in how they get there.
The plot of Party Hard, Die Young is straight forward enough, but the way it weaves through the deaths and the authorities’ lack of attention, all while unraveling a mystery, is well crafted. There are moments where the film could easily go into cheese and for many slashers, knowing their own absurdity is key to their success. That said, as a horror film, Party Hard, Die Young doesn’t meet the absurdity of its title. Instead, it remains grounded and serious. It isn’t meta and it does is in fact take itself seriously, which works.
The dialogue from writers Robert Buchschwenter and Karin Lomot is never too much. Rather, it seems authentic to interactions and friendship. Since this is a German-language film I relied on subtitles, and since cultural nuances and word-play can get lost in translation, there might have been some moments that the English translation didn’t convey. That said, the acting in the film from the entire cast is good, and I don’t just mean slasher good. They each sell their emotion and their lines.
Ultimately, Part Hard, Die Young is the best serious slasher I’ve seen in years. The who-dun-it piece of the film is great to watch unfold as the remaining friends attempt to find and stop the killer before he comes for them. The secret once revealed holds a really deep punch. There is a seriousness to it that is often missed by meta or cheesy slashers that aim to make a similar play on trauma. Instead, in Party Hard, Die Young the suspenseful elements of the film work and, unlike with other slashers, I was never just waiting for the next kill. Instead, I was pulled into the story. This made it easier when I realized that the body count wouldn’t be high, opting for a stronger narrative focus instead.
The only critique I can find in the narrative is that while the execution of the twist is perfect, it takes too long for the secret to be established. It isn’t something that the group is actively trying to hide but rather something they never gave a second thought to. While this works for the end of the film, it makes the path to it too windy. It needed more exposition.
Visually, the film is perfect. Hartl uses the neon lights of X-Jam to frame his characters and their acts. Neon-soaked filmmaking has risen in popularity over the last couple of years, to the point that many oversaturate their films, leaving the neon to overtake the scenes unfolding. However, Hartl uses it to build the tension and suspense. In Party Hard, Die Young the neon is present in moments of high energy, pushing you to feel excitement and fear, and begging you to dance or run. In between the party sequences at night, Hartl’s shots maintain a brightness, on par with Ari Aster’s bright palette in Midsommar, which when blended with the night sequences make for a visually stunning piece of horror.
Party Hard, Die Young is a truly great slasher that slowly moves into revenge film territory. It brings me back to the 90’s slashers of dark secrets and hidden villains. I will say that the film does feature sexual violence in the third act. It is never gratuitous or explicit, but viewers should be aware before going into it. While this is an overplayed plot device in the genre, the film never ventures into exploitation territory. Instead, it opts to keep it off-screen and only uses it in the narrative respectfully. Which is a big ask for horror films, apparently.
Party Hard, Die Young is a great end of summer watch. It embodies the slashers that came before it while offering me a promise that the subgenre isn’t long gone. In fact, it can adapt new technologies, it can move with the times, and it can work with established tropes and revenge triggers with reverence while maintaining the same impact of the genre.
Kate is co-founder, EIC, and CCO of BWT. She’s also a Certified Rotten Tomatoes Critic, host, and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho? and Did You Have To?. She also manages all PR relationships for comics, manga, film, TV, and anime. She has an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Religious Studies focusing on how pop culture impacts society.