Play Hooky (2015) – By Misty Layne

The summary for Play Hooky (the first film to be released on Wild Eye Releasing’s PollyGrind Presents label) goes like this:

“Five high school friends skip class in hopes of finding the perfect spot to party. They chose the wrong place. Against all warnings, they break into an abandoned mental hospital, notorious for reports of ghost sightings, satanic rituals and demon possessions. Now, armed only with a camera, they are trapped inside, haunted and hunted by something they cannot stop, reason with, or describe. The camera captures every last breath in the fight for their lives.”

*sighs* Well, that’s a partially true description…A group of high schoolers DO skip school and they DO break into this abandoned hospital. Only against ONE warning though, from the security guard who tells them to scram. I’m also not so sure about this notoriety for strange happenings, etc. There’s maybe 5 lines devoted to describing two or three odd things for which the hospital is supposedly known. A couple of kids saying, “Well, I heard that…” and “Yeah, well, my cousin’s brother’s best friend’s girlfriend was there and…” in an effort to scare one another while they’re on the way to said hospital, doesn’t exactly constitute something being “notorious for reports of…”. I’m also going to have to argue that line about them being “haunted and hunted by something they cannot stop, reason with, or describe.” There’s no haunting. The “something” is easily describable and technically they COULD stop it, they just didn’t come prepared to so they do a really bad job at it. Yeah, okay, this might not have been my favorite film ever…

It’s not that there’s anything glaringly wrong or terrible about this movie, it’s just that we’ve seen this before, a million times over. And Play Hooky has nothing new to offer the “let’s break into the abandoned mental hospital” subset of the horror genre. It’s, unfortunately, a bland offering into said subset.

We spend the first half of the movie watching a group of friends skip school and then drive around trying to find a place to smoke a joint, only to be thwarted at every turn. They try the park, a parking lot, a house, a park…seriously, this is all that happens for ages. And interspersed amongst all that driving is just really random shit. For some reason we end up meeting one of the group’s music teachers in one of the parks. Later there’s a girl they know walking down the road, crying. Why?? I have no idea why so much time was wasted on randomness that did nothing to advance the plot rather than them just getting ON with the plot. I was bored to death by the time this group actually arrived at the hospital (oh, and I can’t forget that one of the group, a girl named Claire that only one person actually liked, had to stop to go to the bathroom 800 million times, making this trip even LONGER). How hard is it to find a place to smoke? These kids didn’t even think to bring along alcohol originally – they ended up stealing a bottle from someone’s mother later in the movie. Seeing as how they were apparently JUST going to light up, why not just pop behind a building to do so and then move on once they were done? Ugh, freaking kids these days…

Anyway, eventually we arrive at this abandoned mental hospital where our group is promptly warned away by a security guard. Of course they ignore him and find a way into the building. Of course the building is gross and creepy and dark and with strange noises. Of course two of the girls are scared (in fact one of them pretty much has a full blown nervous breakdown). Then all of that is quickly forgotten and we spend the next 15-20 minutes watching these people chillax. FINALLY, something happens!!! (And by that I mean Claire has to go pee again). But then something really DOES happen! About freaking time! Once Claire goes to the bathroom for the billionth time, the “scary” part of this horror movie starts. And therein lies the last 20 or so minutes of this film. Is the wait worth it? In short, NO. The “monster” of this flick appears out of nowhere at the last minute, going on a rampage and executing very poorly choreographed, very non-gory kills. It’s almost as if the people making this film at some point turned to each other and went, “Oh crap. We’re supposed to kill these kids off, aren’t we? Hey! We need a killer in here, stat!” All in all, it’s a disappointing ending for a disappointing film.

I also can’t overlook the fact that Play Hooky is, for some unknown reason, a “found footage” flick (one of the boys in the groups has a hidden camera in his hat). I don’t just say that because practically everyone in the horror community (if not the world) seems to be utterly exhausted and through with the “found footage” phenomenon. I say that because I don’t understand WHY this film is a “found footage”. But to give my exact reason for saying that would involve *spoilers* so I’ll just say this – “found footage” typically involves someone (such as the police) finding a camera as the only thing surviving from a group that has disappeared. In the case of this movie, I think it would have worked better with a frame, such as opening with the actual police preparing to watch the video from the camera before launching into what was ON the camera. If you end up watching Play Hooky, hopefully you’ll understand what I mean.

I realize I’ve been a little rough on this film and you’re probably wondering if I found anything good about it. I DID. I thought the cast did a fine job. They’re a group of relatively unknowns and they didn’t have a lot to work with here so what they managed to do was impressive. They turned Play Hooky from something entirely lamentable to something that’s watchable. They were very cohesive and overall, I enjoyed them. Also, though I did not like the “found footage” aspect at all, the camera work wasn’t too shoddy (especially considering the low budget). They at least left out the shakiness usually associated with FF films.  

Play Hooky is a mostly forgettable film with an enjoyable cast but a not-so-enjoyable script. Unless you’re a die hard fan of the “abandoned mental hospital” genre, I really can’t recommend this film. There are far better ways to spend 74 minutes of your life. However, you can check out the Play Hooky Facebook page and IMDB page to learn more and decide for yourself!