Synopsis: A young woman struggling with addiction comes into possession of an ancient puzzle box, unaware that its purpose is to summon the Cenobites.
Stars: Odessa A’zion, Jamie Clayton, Brandon Flynn, Goran Višnjić, Drew Starkey, Adam Faison, Aoife Hinds, Selina Lo, Hiam Abbass
Director: David Bruckner
Running Length: 121 minutes
TMMM Score: (7.5/10)
Review: I faced a slight dilemma as the release date of Hulu’s remake of Hellraiser drew near. It had been some time (think decades) since I had seen director Clive Barker’s 1987 adaptation of his novel, ‘The Hellbound Heart’. As someone who likes to do their brush-up homework and do it well, did I want to revisit this cult favorite, which spawned an enduring horror icon in its freaky breakout character Pinhead and a legion of sequels? I couldn’t even begin to attempt to climb that mountain of sequels (nine of them!), and in the end, I decided to take the same approach as the filmmakers by resisting the urge to look back too much.
Fuzzy memories or not, I do know that Barker’s original film has rightfully earned its place in the horror classic canon. With eye-popping special effects and creative make-up that turn actors into walking nightmares, the movie tends to stick with you and leave a mark. The same is true for David Bruckner’s take on Barker’s novel, which, contrary to advance rumor, is vastly different from the source material from which the original movie was drawn. Instead, a new story from David S. Goyer (Man of Steel) along with Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski (Brucker’s collaborators in 2021’s The Night House) is presented, helping further to establish the 2022 film as its own entity.
A prologue introduces us to a sought-after puzzle box that mysterious billionaire Roland Voight (Goran Višnjić, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) is willing to do anything and sacrifice anyone, to solve. It’s clear early on the box has its agenda with deadly rules, but the game plan is doled out slowly over the next two hours. Jumping ahead six years after we witness a gruesome demise courtesy of the creatures the box calls forth, the focus shifts to Riley (Odessa A’zion), an addict trying to stay clean despite temptations all around her.
Living with her brother Matt (Brandon Flynn) and his partner (Adam Faison) in the apartment they share with Nora (Aoife Hinds, The Commuter) makes for tight quarters, and the hot-wired Riley is feeling the pressure. Exploring a new relationship with Trevor (Drew Starkey, Love, Simon), another addict in recovery, is helping her find focus, but Matt is worried she’s playing with fire. His suspicions might not be too far off after Trevor floats the possibility of Riley earning quick money helping him break into an abandoned storage container at work. Long story short…they do, and guess what? The only item that’s waiting for them is the box.
Once in Riley’s possession, the box begins a terrifying cycle of configurations, each needing a sacrifice to move forward. Unable to find answers or help from the authorities, Riley and her friends must follow the history of the box, tracing its origin back to the last owner to find out what became of him. Staying several steps ahead of creatures from another world, including The Priest (Jamie Clayton, The Snowman), proves difficult as Riley finds herself marked for death and faced with decisions impacting the people she loves most, trusting her to make the right choice.
An incredibly satisfying watch from beginning to end, I’m shocked the 2022 Hellraiser wasn’t released to theaters because the quality is much higher than your standard streaming-only release. The film’s production values (made in Belgrade, Serbia) are top-notch. From the costume design, which incorporates skin from the wearer into the garment, to the special effects make-up, the creativity was unbridled here. At the same time, it’s not over-the-top to betray the mood or Barker’s original tale. The first film tended to go a little wild, which fit the tone set by its director, but here Brucker keeps the movie as dark as can be.
That darkness gives Bruckner’s remake a sinister menace that is often genuinely frightening. It’s a gory movie but not gratuitous in its bloodletting. What’s there is enough to make you wince in pain, though. Thankfully, Bruckner is a sophisticated enough director not to wallow in that misery for too long. The point of The Priest and disciples is to revel in pain, and Clayton works well on the attack or at rest. Speaking of Clayton, it can’t have been easy to take over for a character as familiar as Doug Bradley’s instantly recognizable Pinhead (the name Pinhead is never mentioned here). Still, Clayton makes the character their own by letting the performance be cumulative of acting and make-up.
The rest of the cast is also strong, finding A’zion as an encouraging lead despite the character’s often insufferable urge toward self-destruction. I wasn’t familiar with A’zion before recently. This week alone, she’s the star of this and another horror film based on a familiar story, the Lizzie Borden possession thriller, The Inhabitant. She’s good in both, but, given a choice, stick with Hellraiser for the more polished production. Flynn, Faison, Starkey, and Hinds are pleasant victims, I mean, friends of A’zion’s character and Višnjić might be going for a modified Javier Bardem performance in terms of zeal, but it works for this character.
Fans of the series waiting for years for the next installment (the last was 2018) will hopefully be pleased with this remake. Barker is listed as a producer, and while Bradley couldn’t make his requested cameo, he has signed off his approval of Clayton’s version of a role to which he’s forever linked. Could this be the start of another string of Hellraiser trips should the movie succeed as well as Hulu hopes? After the success of the Predator prequel Prey earlier this summer, I think Hulu will have another sizable hit with Hellraiser, and we can expect more nightmare creations sooner rather than later. We can only hope that future sequels are handled with as much creative comprehension as this was.