Shudder is set to have a strong 2022, acquiring many great recent horror films but also creating a slew of anticipated originals. They’ve recently released the critically-acclaimed movie The Last Thing Mary Saw and are set to release both Slapface and They Live in Grey in February, but Hellbender may currently be the film horror fans are awaiting with gory glee. The film is extremely unusual and very specific, and the trailer has especially opened the floodgates, sparking interest in this weird witchcraft wonder. Here are five reasons why people can’t seem to wait for the February 24th release of Hellbender.
A Cacophony of Critical Praise
The noise from critics surrounding Hellbender is deafening. Based on its screeners and participation in the festival circuit, the film has a 100% Tomatometer score based on 28 reviews from critics, as of January 26th. Praise is being lauded upon the film’s genuine strangeness, it’s emphasis on family, and it’s bizarre take on the coming-of-age tropes. Katie Rife of The AV Club has called it “one of the more unique takes on both occult horror and coming-of-age tales we’ve seen in a while,” while Nick Allen of Roger Ebert’s website says that it’s “an incredibly vivid product of an authorship that is distinct and continuously promising.”
One of the most enthusiastic reviews comes from Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, who writes, “A film embossed with all the ferocity and heart and passion and craft of the most powerful of art, Hellbender is a reminder that when film like this is revealed as possible, we never should settle for less.” This gets to another of the most interesting reasons for the appeal of Hellbender.
A Mother-Daughter Horror Movie
Not too many horror films explore the relationship between mothers and daughters, unfortunately. The Monster and The Exorcist are generally the only real horror films that do this, which is a shame, considering the amount of emotional and psychological material available to draw from. Hellbender focuses almost exclusively on said relationship, exploring the maternal instincts and protective impulses of motherhood, but also the curiosity and transgressive desires of being a daughter.
Women make up roughly 42% of horror fandom, according to researcher Alex Gilbey, so it’s crucial and sensible to explore more female relationships within the genre. A new wave of horror filmmakers features women like Julia Ducournau, Rose Glass, and Nia DaCosta experimenting subversively with the craft, creating a bevy of masterpieces in the process which makes the contemporary era a fantastic time for horror. Hellbender continues the revolution, technically.
A Family Fright-Fest
Hellbender has three listed directors, and two of them are women; the other is John Adams, co-director (with his wife, Toby Poser) of the well-reviewed horror film The Deeper You Dig. The husband-and-wife duo teamed up with their daughter, Zelda Adams, to direct the new Shudder original. The ironically named Adams family is beginning to become a force of their own in the world of horror, receiving a glowing New York Times profile. They’ve all worked together in some capacity for a few low-budget films, but Hellbender seems to be the most collaborative of the bunch. The mother and daughter star as mother and daughter, both writing and directing the film with John Adams, and the kind of intimacy which is achieved through this family affair is palpable on-screen.
Zelda Adams has acted in her parents’ films, but this is the first time she’s getting a lot of attention. She won acting awards internationally for this new film, both at the celebrated Fantasia Film Festival and the Mar del Plata Film Festival in Argentina, and her performance here seems harrowing. The kind of trust and personal relationships between the family members must be strong, allowing them to go places where emotion and psychology are explored in visceral, haunting ways like few families can.
Hellbender is anticipated by gore-hounds for its unique use of blood and guts. A consistent theme in the film seems to be the regurgitation or vomiting up of blood as part of a witchcraft ritual, and the flaming bodies and bleeding faces seen in the trailer and stills for the film set it apart from the more recent turn in critically-acclaimed horror toward subdued, atmospheric dread. A quiet slow-burn toward horror can work extremely well, as seen in another recent film, The Witch, that utilized witchery and family trauma to terrifying ends. However, some fans of the genre miss the gory glory of earlier works like The Evil Dead and The Thing, and Hellbender is sure not to disappoint.
Speaking of witchcraft, there haven’t been many great, critically lauded films which seriously explored the subject as of late, other than the aforementioned The Witch and the remake of Suspiria. The ‘Satanic panic’ of the ’80s and ’90s helped produce some of the most entertaining films on witchcraft ever made, but the genre has often succumbed to kid-friendly fantasy films like Hocus Pocus, Harry Potter, and Matilda. With the recent success of The Witcher, it seems as if interest in dramatic and truly horrific depictions of witchcraft might be rising, and Hellbender is sure to satisfy.
Speaking of Satanism and witchcraft, the two have always popularly paired with hard rock and metal music, ever since Jimmy Page and Led Zeppelin were linked to devil-worship. In Hellbender, the mother and daughter make up a hard rock duo (which the title of the film is named after), and the movie features much of their music, which is actually scored by the family themselves. The face-paint, gothic outfits, screeching guitars, pounding drums, and wailing women are seen frequently throughout the film as they rehearse, making this the dream film for fans of the often intertwined horror movies and heavy metal music alike. It should be a deafening, gory, and twisted family affair that audiences can’t wait for and don’t want to miss.
The streamer has revealed that it will be following the success of Nightmare of the Wolf with another animated movie set in the world of The Witcher.
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