Film Review: Hellraiser (2022)’s Stellar Performances and Stunning Visuals Reinvigorate the Dying Franchise

Film Review: Hellraiser (2022)’s Stellar Performances and Stunning Visuals Reinvigorate the Dying Franchise

The things people fear and desire the most are often intertwined, but they’re often afraid to admit their true desires over concerns on how they’ll change their lives. That idea is the operating principal behind the iconic horror franchise, Hellraiser, whose latest installment is being released this week.

The upcoming movie proves that the series’ antagonists, the legendary but equally feared Cenobites, aren’t truly villains that are unwittingly unleashed upon humanity. Rather, they just facilitate the destruction that humanity continuously chooses to unleash upon themselves in its selfish pursuit of pleasure and power.

Hellraiser is a reinvention of filmmaker Clive Barker’s classic 1987 horror movie of the same name, which itself is based on his 1986 novella, The Hellbound Heart. The new screen adaptation, which is the 11th entry in the franchise, was directed by genre filmmaker, David Bruckner, who’s also known for helming The Night House and The Ritual. The upcoming drama reunites Bruckner with screenwriters Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski, who also scribed The Night House together.

Hellraiser follows Riley McKendry (Odessa A’zion), an intelligent woman in her early 20s who deals with the frustrations of her life through alcohol and drug use. Although she’s trying to overcome her dependencies with a 12- Step Program, her addictions and self-serving impulses are still negatively controlling and impacting her life.

Living with her protective older brother Matt (Brandon Flynn), their relationship has become severely strained, due to Riley’s inability to control her desires. Matt’s partner Colin (Adam Faison) and their housemate Nora (Aoife Hinds) are the buffer zone between the siblings, but saving Riley from herself has become a project for them all.

The only  bright spot in Riley’s life is her relationship with her new boyfriend, Trevor (Drew Starkey). When he suggestions that they commit a robbery in order to quickly make money, her lack of financial security motivates her to go along with the idea. But they’re disapointed to discover that the only thing they end up retrieving during the crime is an ancient puzzle box.

Soon after stealing the box, Riley is horrified when someone closest to her mysteriously vanishes. She quickly realizes that the puzzle box has completely changed shape, leaving her to investigate the artifact’s history.

Through her inquiry into the device, Riley discovers that it was last owned by long-missing millionaire, Roland Voight (Goran Visnjic), who is presumed dead, due to his relentless pursuit of power. During her search into Roland’s connection to the artifact, Riley unwittingly unleashes the Cenobites, who are led by the merciless Pinhead (Jamie Clayton).

After meeting the villainous Pinhead, Riley is then left to decide between two devastating choices: to succumb to the Cenobites’ demands, in order to protect the people she cares about, or refuse them and subject herself to an eternity of torment and pain.

The series’ latest screen adaptation is a powerful exploration into how people’s transgressions that are linked to their addictions, even those that aren’t intentionally cruel or misguided, eventually lead them to contend with the punishment that suits their misdeeds.

Despite the subconscious acceptance that she needs to stay committed to her sobriety and accept responsibility for her decisions, Riley is a relatable, multi-dimensional and emotional protagonist. She fears being punished for her actions. She also dreads retribution for her deepest desires, including having meaningful relationships that are intimate but also provide her with the independence and freedom from societal expectations she so desperately craves.

While her alcohol and habitual drug use gives her short-term reprieve from her life’s frustrations, when she relapses, Riley’s addictions also make her selfish, impulsive and vulnerable. Those personality traits make her the perfect target for the Cenobites. As a result of her choices and circumstances, Riley is physically and emotionally unprepared to battle the supernatural challenges she unintentionally unleashes along with the Cenobites.

The Cenobites are presented to be Riley’s complete opposite in the new Hellraiser, as they reflect the harm that arises from the actions of beings who are dedicated to the pursuit of extreme sensual pleasure. Collins and Piotrowski’s script for the new film perfectly reflects Barker’s intention of emphasizing how people can become evil through their committed search for that gratification in the movie series’ original installment.

Besides the characters’ emotional arcs and backstories, the upcoming Hellraiser also thrives on maintaining the franchise’s boundary-pushing visual designs. The Cenobites’ looks throughout the new film are anchored in the series’ viscerally grotesque body horror, which was expertly created by costume designer Momirka Bailovic, concept designer Keith Thompson and prosthetics FX artists Josh and Sierra Russell of Russell FX. The filmmakers also emphasized the antagonists’ modern style, in which they tailored their own flesh in elaborate ways as to appear as though they’re actually wearing a unique wardrobe.

In addition to the characters’ stunning costumes and looks, the new Hellraiser also thrives on its exquisite production design, which was created by Kathrin Eder, who also worked on The Night House.

The realistic, working class apartment that Riley shares with Matt, Colin and Nora, which features a commonplace modern setup, stands in stark contrast with the ancient, gaudy mansion that Roland lived in. The estate is a visual masterpiece that exudes excess and temptation, and emphasizes his physical pursuits and ever-simmering vanity. As distinct and enthralling as the apartment and mansion are, the movie’s true standout location is the stone textured, Romanesque realm of the Cenobites’ labyrinth

Hellraiser ultimately proves to be the much-needed entry the long-running franchise needs in order to reinvent and reinvigorate itself. Under Bruckner’s skilled direction as a proven genre filmmaker, the latest installment in the iconic series proves how people’s transgressions eventually lead them to accept the punishment that suits their misdeeds. Riley’s relatable, multi-dimensional and emotional arc also proves that the things people fear and desire the most are often intertwined, which helps make the reboot the franchise’s best entry since the original.

Hellraiser will begin streaming exclusively on Hulu this Friday, October 7.

Grade: B+

Check out more of Karen Benardello’s articles.

Here’s the trailer of the film.

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