Sometimes, a movie’s just bad. There’s nothing salvageable in it, and you walk out thinking “well, it was shit, but there’s not much more to it than that”. And sometimes, a movie is lacking, but so clearly has so much potential that it’s even more infuriating than a film that just outright sucked.
And that’s squarely where 2022’s Hellraiser, directed by blog favourite David Bruckner, lands for me. There’s so much good to this movie, but it’s ultimately tripped up by some sloppy errors and problems that obscures the genuine brilliance and lands it firmly in the realm of Yet Another Mediocre Horror Remake.
But let’s start with the positive, and talk about the good, because there is a hefty amount of it. Bruckner, with The Night House and The Ritual, has proved himself to be a director of amazing skill when it comes to visuals and creating a distinct atmosphere within his films, and Hellraiser is no different: the set design, make-up, prosthetics, and trippy visual mastery is by far the part of the movie I enjoy the most. The Cenobites as villains naturally lend themselves to directors with a really clear cinematographical style, and Bruckner’s interpretation of these monsters is outright stunning. Jamie Clayton as the iconic Pinhead has rightly garnered so much praise for her turn, and I love the stately, calm, collected imposition she brings to the role. Every scene with either Pinhead or any of the rest of the Cenobites stands up to the ground-breaking innovation of the original movies, and that’s saying something. Goran Višnjić, as hedonistic, tortured billionaire Voight, is the only character and performance that really stands out to me, throwing himself full-force into the inherent madness of this story set-up and really selling it even in his limited screentime.
But, honestly, these aspects really don’t make up for the failures at the film’s heart. The main character, Riley (played by Odessa A’Zion), is a recovering drug addict who ends up slipping back out of sobriety and accidentally drawing the Cenobites into her life as a result; I loved this idea as a premise, the reflection of the Cenobite’s pleasure-to-pain pipeline an obvious parallel to addiction, but Riley never really gets going as a character. There’s potential here, but she’s never given the texture and grit we need to really sell this as a starting point, the film never satisfyingly exploring the parallel between her story and that of other characters pursuing a destructive, addictive “pleasure” throughout the film.
The less said about the rest of the main cast, the better, as they’re just a collection of vaguely uninteresting redshirts whose relationships are frustratingly underdeveloped and lacking for a movie that’s as driven by emotion as this one should be. Hellraiser, as a story, is one built around emotion, desire, want, and for these characters to barely feel more than paper cut-outs is a huge, gaping oversight. I also really hoped to see a bit more effort put into exploring why certain people were targeted as sacrifices for the Cenobites – maybe touching on the idea of the less dead and how that relates to the billionaire antagonist of the movie – but it skips right over that for the sake of another suitably gory kill. – There are so many threads (or, indeed, lashing chains) to pull on here, but the movie seems satisfied with focusing the efforts on visual effects over grounding the script in something human and relatable – a particular let-down given the amazing character work in Bruckner’s other movies.
The dialogue is consistently pretty rough, and the two-hour runtime drags badly in the first half as we wait to get to the actual main plot. When we finally get there, it’s strikingly beautiful and occasionally quit effective, but the film overall still feels disappointingly shallow compared to both Bruckner’s other films and the rise of more prestige horror that we’ve seen in the last few years. Hellraiser wears the wet-look robes of a prestige horror film, but fails to deliver on the character work and depth to really fill those fetishwear boots.
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By Lou MacGregor
(header image via Forbes)
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