Hellraiser: Judgment (2018) Directed by Gary J. Tunnicliffe
I must admit that I found the mercilessly burlesque hellish bureaucracy of the opening act sublime. And I really feel that it would have been ideal for the writing to place an exhaustive structural and thematic emphasis on that grotesque scenario as an absolute rigor for the story’s conception. However, with the exception of those savage first few minutes, we return once again to the spectrum of psychological thrillers that Hellraiser: Inferno inaugurated years ago when it saw the light of its abject existence in the early 2000’s and then the other sequels repeated the same pattern of following Inferno’s blunderous mimicry of shamelessly copying other successful contemporary thrillers.
Hellraiser: Judgment absorbs the conventions of thriller filmmaking in the most conservative way, it follows the rules with such diligence that it looks like a film that has memorized all the ingredients of modern thrillers in order to pass the exam, however it did not understand that learning or studying is not the same as simply copying, because that is what this tenth installment of Hellraiser does and it becomes a product so artificial that it is deleterious. Judgment’s narrative structure is traditionally what you would imagine it to be, and it never divorces itself from the narrative clichés contained in that tradition.
Conveniently, the rudimentary and fruitless pastiche of sticking to a linear and very faithful direction with the patterns of thriller cinema undeniably gives it a smooth transition of acts, none of which are dull, only squarely predictable. By taking advantage of its verbatim storytelling, the filmmakers have a great deal of time to figure out how to adhere without abrupt intrusions to Hellraiser’s intricate philosophy within this archetypal plot of detectives investigating the gruesome crimes of a serial killer who intellectualizes his macabre murders. Frustratingly, much of what may appear on the surface to be limpid cinematic entertainment is in reality a specious ploy, and it takes time to delve into its fickle errors, as I mentioned, the script is shaped with all the right elements to fool the audience with its flat rhetoric.
When that flaccid articulation of densifying a narrative with ephemerally convincing contrivances collapses, that’s when you realize how obscenely, pointlessly and fraudulently the film is manipulating you into succumbing to its deceptive disguise as an entertaining thriller. There are moments of intriguing perplexity in Hellraiser: Judgment that suggest it is the sequel to Hellraiser with the best ideas, but before my argument sounds contradictory, note that by “ideas” I am referring exclusively to the sections that relate to the Hellraiser universe, not the Thriller universe. Indeed, Judgment brings with it succulently provocative ideas that are reminiscent of Clive Barker’s novel, so it should be given appropriate, but measured, credit for trusting its nature and embracing it rather than secluding or divorcing it as most sequels have done. Both Hellraiser (1987) and Hellbound: Hellraiser 2 (1988) are steeped in religious symbolism that for some reason no one usually highlights when exploring the thematic rigor of Clive Barker’s preternatural worlds, and Hellraiser: Judgment is the first after Hellbound to bring back theological complexities and questions that disturb our folkloric perceptions of hell and earth.
Three detectives, brothers Sean and David Carter (Damon Carney and Randy Wayne) along with their new partner Cristine Egerton (Alexandra Harris), investigate a serial killer known as the Preceptor, whose heinous murders are based on the Ten Commandments. A connection to one of the victims leads the detectives to Karl Watkins, a local criminal who disappeared near an abandoned house. From then on, the tormented detective Sean Carter will descend into the darkest part of this case that will lead him to encounter nothing less than hell itself. To be specific, its dark overtones and twisty investigative plot poorly concocts what films like Se7en (1995) managed to do so well. It’s a godawful trashy thriller, period.
But on the horror movie side, when it only focuses on being a Hellraiser movie and nothing more than that it surprises to disconcerting levels. Nothing we see is as powerfully effective as director Gary J. Tunnicliffe presumes during his immoderate exposition of laughable camera angles and acerbic gratuitous violence, yet many of those exploitative features share a common goal of heightening the sense of pleasurable sensations through pain that the cenobites enjoy with poetic contemplation. To be honest, the disgusting, vomitous, claustrophobic opening of this film has greatly influenced the rating I’m giving this film, I’ll put it this simply: that small section of approximately 10 min, is the best thing a Hellraiser direct-to-video sequel has ever done in the franchise.
Hellraiser: Judgment espouses an allusively religious theme that feels conceptually nourished from Hellraiser’s literary origins, doesn’t hesitate to show the worst of humanity and takes malevolent pleasure in it. It uses the classic comparison that earth is like, or worse, than hell with an interesting vehemence that at least in contrast to the other horrific sequels shows traces of being something. Too bad it didn’t have a clue how to formulate that vehemence on screen. Not that I was expecting a good movie, but come on, for a tenth sequel at least give it credit for being moderately bad, that’s something.