By Barbara Steiner.
Angie is looking forward to spending spring break at the beach with her best friends – Paula, Kerry and Chad – and her chaperone/brother, Justin. Arriving late, the only accommodation they can find is a supposedly haunted house which is being renovated by creepy local character, Eldon Minor. Their first night in the mansion, the friends hear voices and music coming from the inaccessible third floor. Angie is bothered by the ‘ghosts’, but is more concerned about becoming a fifth wheel when Paula and Justin pair off. This problem is soon solved when she meets the mysterious Val, who is camping out on the beach. Angie and Val hit it off, and she starts to enjoy herself, but the ghosts won’t leave the group alone. And when her friends start disappearing, Angie realises that to find them, she must first solve the mystery of the haunted house.
Spring Break is, at times, confusing. The way the action weaves throughout the ‘haunted house’ seems architecturally improbable – though perhaps this is intentional; a ploy to discombobulate the reader. The main characters are a little tricky to distinguish between at first. Nevertheless, once personalities are established, they are presented as a likeable group and this helps maintain our interest in the story. Angie is a relatable heroine, and her behaviour towards new crush Val, whilst a little desperate at times, resonates with us all. (Who wouldn’t get just a little bit obsessive over an intriguing Brad Pitt lookalike, who can catch you a fish supper?) However, whilst we are plunged into the ghost story early on, the romance soon takes over and the story frustratingly loses sight of what it is meant to be.
Spring Break is not a whodunit; we know early on who the perpetrator is, because there is only one character it can possibly be. It has the potential to be a solid mystery, but not enough is made of the creepy mansion’s background story (the explanation is left until the very end, and is not very satisfying). It is, therefore, a ghost story, but one in which the scares rely too much on creepy music and disembodied voices. The event which has the greatest potential for horror – Angie’s discovery of the dog with its throat viciously slit – is neutered by her bizarrely calm reaction. Whilst the finale is set up for thrills, the action focuses way too much on the technicalities of escaping down a ladder, rather than the psychology of the perpetrator. This, and the lack of any actual gore, makes it dull and instantly forgettable.
An atmospheric creepiness pervades Spring Break. The musty, dark house with its secret stairways and eerie sounds; the ferocious tropical storm with its lashing rain and howling winds; the isolation of the friends from the nearest town. It’s the recipe for a perfect horror story. Which makes it all the more frustrating that Spring Break offers up so few scares. The story is overly reliant on the music and voices from the third floor, and these quickly lose their scare-potential. The only real moments of horror (the dead dog and the revelation of who/what has been hiding upstairs) arrive too late, and are not used as effectively as they should be. Spring Break therefore gets a disappointing fear factor rating of…