Hellraiser (2022)

hellraiser 2022

⭐½ (1½ stars out of 5)

Hellraiser (2022) Directed by David Bruckner

When novelist and filmmaker Clive Barker adapted his own novella The Hellbound Heart to film in 1987, he was unable to inquisitively examine the literary specifics in a cinematic language entirely apt and hermeneutic to delve into his occult cryptology, and consequently did not devoutly explore the symbolic plurality of his mythological hell contained in his literature, he did, however, manage to materialize, to give flesh and blood, lyric and tragedy, to the spectral imagery of his intricate and esoteric worlds, hell and earth inextricable, in an intriguing and complex scheme of provocation that beguilingly invites us into its palpable sadomasochistic tortures. With these foundations laid, his iconic first feature film made clear to us what the true essence of his writing is, and conceptually pinpointed the nature of Hellraiser. This eleventh Hellraiser sequel/reboot artificially attempts to be part of the gnarly beauty of Barkerian inferno without first having studied its ontology. One simply can’t pretend to be part of something one doesn’t even understand or know, therein lies the ostensible flaw of this new and much-anticipated Hellraiser film that makes you doubt if it’s really a Hellraiser film.

After the copious filth represented by the sequels of the 90’s, 2000’s and 2010’s, it was to be expected that the next production that would have the infamous duty of crafting a new Hellraiser movie would not have it easy at all, and indeed the saggy and lackluster result of this film only further affirms that the speculative argument is overwhelmingly veracious. Rather than a profound disappointment, Hellraiser ends up being pitifully another film in the franchise to join, and fit perfectly well, the achingly long list of bad Hellraiser sequels.

Since 1987 we have gone from seamy hedonistic characters in search of morbid indulgence and lascivious sensations that intertwine pain and pleasure in an unparalleled supernatural experience to end up in a reboot with emotionless juvenile characters who have issues more akin of a family drama or a coming-of-age than the kinky horror drama of Clive Barker’s novel. You see, here there is a paradoxical mystery that arises mainly from the characters, which have a very conflicting contrast, highly dissimilar to the depraved singularity of Hellraiser, it may sound strange but here the characters are too mentally sane to operate as protagonists in a Hellraiser narrative, they are rather antagonistic, I repeat they are too normal, too psychologically composed to sustain the principles or ideals of the true essence of Hellraiser. When one sees Hellraiser (1987) or Hellbound: Hellraiser 2 (1988) or any of its horrendous sequels, all of them have at least one thing in common, their characters are literally insane, they are sinful daredevils who have no redemption, they only have as an escape from their own hell the tragedy they brought upon themselves.

Hellraiser should be narrated as a romance, that is, it should poeticize the dark pleasures that its protagonists tirelessly seek and finally assault us with an imagery that does not distinguish between the terrifying and the beautiful. This eleventh installment is on a diametrically opposite side of that.

I wouldn’t want to say that this is a film with very circumspect direction, or very reluctant to take risks, yet I do think the direction is tremendously tame with its material. Two things happen in the same work unit, first we have David Bruckner’s timid direction and second we have the major problem of all, the robotic, hastily mechanical writing of Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski. Although many of the problems are purely practical, so fixing them in practice, at the right time, would have improved much of the erratic script writing. What I am specifically referring to is that director Bruckner could have made the insipid and compliant into something incisive, graphic and risqué. All that was missing was a gutsy attitude on Bruckner’s part to mitigate the dull writing and enliven the provocative, the intense violence and the lurid carnality. However this never happens, it is what we all indeed expect but this production seems to be too busy making metaphors about drug addiction and intra-family relationships.

Riley McKendry played by Odessa A’zion, is a young girl struggling with drug addiction, she is in recovery under the inquisitive eye of her kind brother played by Brandon Flynn who takes care of her and keeps her at home where he lives with his boyfriend. One day Riley’s lover convinces her to help him break into an abandoned warehouse where there appears to be a strongbox containing something of value that could bring them a substantial sum of money, unfortunately for them, when they open the safe they find to their surprise that there is nothing but a simple puzzle cube. Without even thinking about it, Riley decides to steal that sophisticated and complex puzzle box to see how much money they can give her in exchange for it. However, her curiosity leads her to manipulate the labyrinthine architecture of that box to the point of opening its abstract infernal dimensions, from which come out the priests of suffering, the scholars of pleasure, demons to some, angels to others, the cenobites.

The recycled narrative rhetoric is entirely the same as the worst Hellraiser sequels, drenching the character who opened the lament of configuration in an episode of relentless schizophrenia. Again, the flawed and tedious formula doesn’t work at all, and I truly consider that I doubt there is any visionary formula that actually reinvents Clive Barker’s story; Hellraiser was too original for the 80’s, it still is, how about we just leave it at that and forget about wanting to continue it or reinterpret it? I think that would be ideal.

Jamie Clayton as the new leader of the Cenobites is an interesting replacement for Doug Bradley, but who the hell are they trying to fool? No matter color, sex, stature, makeup or voice, Doug Bradley is and always will be part of the Hellraiser mythology, and thus impossible to top, and boy is he sorely missed. Which brings me to the purely stylistic plane, this film is shrouded in a routine bore of color schemes that seek to highlight the traditional hues of the early Hellraiser films and seeks to emphasize with its sound design the dreamlike bewilderment so iconic and singular that the visual delirium that the first and second installments so wickedly enthusiastically founded. It’s definitely soporific in its execution, paralytic lighting, very little changeable or flexible in its aesthetics and a frustrating idealization of conventional allusions tailored to the repetitive quest to provide a moralistic commentary. Hellraiser was always about symbolic complexities, about repressed desires and the glorification of obscenities, each of those elements of content told in exquisite philosophical suggestiveness, here there is none of it, just an eternal disappointment that should make us reflect not on its characters but on why it is so bad despite having the means to be a proficient film.

This new Hellraiser movie will do two things, either finally let the hells created by Clive Barker rest in peace or spawn endless sequels, just as bad or worse, at least empirically that is already proven, after eleven movies what more do we need to categorically define that we should put a stop to the Hellraiser sequels?

Matteo Bedon
About Author

When I'm not watching and studying films, I'm writing about them.
Part-time essayist and full-time film critic.