2022 | rated R | starring Odessa A’zion, Jamie Clayton, Drew Starkey, Adam Faison | directed by David Bruckner | 2 hrs 1 mins |
It has been so long since I saw the original Clive Barker film Hellraiser that I revisited it after viewing the latest adaptation. It’s a small film that still manages to convey huge ideas. A character-driven story about an affair from beyond the grave that intersects with a universe of interdimensional Gods. It’s gruesome in it’s special effects that still hold up and disturbing in it’s hopelessness. It’s villain isn’t a masked psychopath but an unstoppable sadomasochistic demon. In other times, rebooting this universe with a story of young angst would feel derivative, but we are not in normal times and Hellraiser’s attempt to build something new out of these ideas has a welcome freshness to it.
Young recovering drug addict Riley (Odessa A’zion) tags along with her boyfriend (Drew Starkey) on a warehouse heist that recovers only a mysterious puzzle box. A box that when solved vanishes her brother into thin air. The search sends them into the world of an occult collector Voight (Goran Visnjic) and the Cinobite demons he has summoned, lead by the high priest of hell, Pinhead (Jamie Clayton, Sense8).
There is a reason Pinhead is only rarely referenced alongside other horror icons of the 80s. Hellraiser is far too weird, twisted and perverse to hit that level of mainstream appeal. It’s to the credit of director David Bruckner (The Night House, The Ritual, The Signal) that this film – despite it’s dating-young-people cast – retains the blood fetish, torture and general nastiness of Barker’s cosmic horror original. The film is empty on dread and muted on thrills but the Cinobite designs and various gothic torture devices are nightmare fuel. For that reason alone, Hellraiser 2022 is unlike anything out there right now in the horror space. It’s not about grief and trauma and unseen evil, it’s a fantasmagoric creature show built for gorehounds.
As much creativity is put into the whips-and-chains redesigns of the Cinobites, Hellraiser’s wacky character story is what made it flow. It’s here where Bruckner’s film falters. Riley and the friends around her simply aren’t fleshed out enough and their drug addiction story isn’t connected directly to the pleasure addiction of the villains. In Barker’s Hellraiser our anti-heroes were committing sins and inviting a devil’s bargain. From Riley’s perspective the Cinobites are treated more like slasher movie villains (or that box from Wish Upon) that stumbles into random unlucky hands and whisks people off into the ether. The film’s most interesting character is Voight. Seen at the beginning and end and hinted at as a hedonist who disappeared, Voight is the proverbial elite who’s quest for power had ironic consequences.
The film is jerky and disjointed, characters suddenly appear places. By the time, however, Bruckner rolls into his lengthy single-location 3rd act Hellraiser really takes off. It is appropriately grotesque – what this movie has in store for Voight is a ghoulish clockwork that won’t easily leave the mind. Compared to Barker’s film, this movie feels more mechanical and rigidly structured than flowing naturally out of the characters, but Bruckner has made a film that feels like a worthy, authentic and respectful sequel in the same universe of ideas Barker constructed. In a time when reboots couldn’t care less or actively destroy those original creations, that is an achievement. Particularly for something as sadomasochistic as Hellraiser which bucks horror movie trends now as much as it did in 1987. This movie appears to do the bare minimum to appease studio trends, just enough to get it made in the first place.