It's difficult these days to put a fresh spin on the tried and true slasher genre. Independently produced Killer Yacht Party makes the attempt, but other than being set on a yacht, as the title implies, there's not much that's original here.
Lacy (Becky Boxer) is an experienced L.A. party girl, wearing the right slinky dresses and stiletto heels, knowing the right people, on the right lists. Her frumpy friend Jane (Maggie Marion) is an aspiring song writer who has just moved to L.A. from the boring Midwest. Lacy wants to show Jane the ins and outs of the party scene, and drags her along to every party she can think of. While at one of these soirees, Lacy catches the eye of club promoter Brock (Eric Clark), and gets the pair an invite to an exclusive shindig on a yacht the next night. There is something of a problem, however. On the yacht's maiden voyage, there was a fire, and the owner's wife died mysteriously. Ever since, the yacht has been haunted by her vengeful spirit, or so the story goes.
And sure enough, once they set sail, people start to get killed in horrible ways. There is no shortage of suspects. It might be drug dealer Chance (David Lago), who is angry with Brock for throwing him out of the club the day before and taking his stash. It might be the irritable captain of the yacht (James C. Burns), who seems oddly perturbed to be taking the boat out. Or it could be the less than nice young man Gavin (Taylor Gerard Hart) that Jane is smitten with. It is only in the last few moments of the film that the true killer is revealed, and while the twist is difficult to guess ahead of time, it is sort of anticlimactic.
Unfortunately, most of the film is anticlimactic in one way or another. The kill methods are varied and somewhat interesting, ranging from garroting to death by flare gun to this reviewer's favorite, death by industrial dishwasher. It seems, though, that the low budget precluded the producers from including any really juicy or involved deaths, with several happening off screen or shown only minimally. Another issue is with the cast of characters, specifically that there really isn't anyone to like or identify with. Apart from Jane, nearly everyone is a selfish, shallow jerk out only for themselves. This includes Lacy, Jane's purported best friend, who certainly doesn't act like anyone's friend but her own. Jane herself is often helpless or forlorn in the face of difficulties, and is more an object of pity than empathy. Jane is clearly who the filmmakers intend for the audience to identify with, but it somehow doesn't work. And without a strong connection to the protagonist, her being in jeopardy is never very engaging.
This is not to say that the film is without good points. The sets are very professional and production values are very high, especially considering the limited budget. According to the commentary, only a few days of shooting on the yacht were possible, but the scenes filmed on a sound stage were difficult if not impossible to detect without them being pointed out. The performances are all actually quite good as well. While all the characters might be self absorbed rakes, the actors demonstrate this admirably. Maggie Marion and Becky Boxer both play their parts to perfection, and are believable as friends. Taylor Hart is convincing as the arrogant, disdainful hanger on that he is portraying. There is no problem believing Eric Clark as the philandering promoter. And so forth. But these performances are in service to a story that can't quite gin up the tension it needs to work as a slasher film. There is some entertainment value in trying to guess who the killer is or who is going to die next, and how. But this is weak sauce compared to an actual sense of dread or deep concern about the fate of these people. Since many of the victims are minor characters with little chance to gain the sympathy of the audience, their deaths are minimally impactful. Combined with the lack of interesting or entertaining gore effects, this dooms Killer Yacht Party to mediocrity at best. It doesn't quite hit the mark. Rent this one.