Is it enough to say David Bruckner’s legacy sequel/soft reboot of Hellraiser is the third best entry in the series after the first two films? Because that is most definitely true, and if you’re looking for some serious Cenobite action and some great effects, well…you’ll certainly get your money’s worth. But coming at this from the perspective of a stand-alone film as well as a massive fan of the works of Clive Barker I have to prioritize what I want: do want a good movie or do I want my Barker craving satisfied? Ultimately for me both are left wanting, as the pacing and character problems can’t overcome the good bits that bring the concept together far, far too late.
THE QUICK SUMMARY: Billionaire Roland Voight has experienced it all…and with the help of a certain infernal puzzle box he’s determined to experience more. Six years later recovering addict Riley and her boyfriend Trevor discover the puzzle box, and also discover that horrifying results that come with manipulating it. Can Rely find out what happened to her brother who mysteriously vanished? Can she stop her friends from suffering the same fate? And what does all of this have to do with Voight, his abandoned mansion, and the mysterious Hell Priest with the pins in its head appearing to Riley?
Maybe it’s a matter of degrees. In essence I agree with everything Dan wrote in his more glowing review of the film, but the failures he identifies loom larger in my mind. There’s the kernel of a great story here, about a young woman fighting her earthly addictions and coming into possession of something that can can become a twisted addiction in and of itself – such is the case with Voight, but that story gets completely dropped until the very end and by then we have absolutely no stakes in him as a character beyond the fact that he ties the beginning and the end of the movie together. Riley’s addiction is left more as a simple trait than anything that really impact Hellraiser, and that’s the bigger shame here. One can argue that it makes her story of inter-dimensional beings and flying chains more hard to believe…except everyone she comes into contact with does believe here, so I’m failing to see the point here.
This is also exacerbated by the fact that – sorry – but Odessa A’zion’s performance as Riley is largely one-note and borderline annoying. I’m all for not having to “like” your protagonists, but I have to care what happens to them, and Hellraiser fails to lift up anyone in the cast beyond the mechanics of what they need to do to move the film forward.
Which is doubly confusing because this movie is a SLOG for the first hour and a half. Bruckner takes his time to move everything into place so he can unveil his plan (which to be fair is really good) but for almost 90 minutes we’re treated to the Cenobites as lumbering Universal monsters instead of the transgressive seekers of experience from the original two films and, indeed, the ending. That’s where my priorities come into play, because I love the work of Barker, and the way all his fiction tie into pushing the boundaries of the flesh, of sexuality and identity and experience. Hellraiser 2022 at best only pays token respect to and is instead much more concerned with the overall mythology and intricacies of the Lemanchard Configuration. Why pose questions about our addictions and preconceived notions of the self when we can focus on how cool the puzzle box moves and that each configuration prefigures a “gift” to be requested? As much as the nerd in me loves those touches – some of which indeed come from the stories – the film lover in me wishes everything came together more cohesively and didn’t feel like a 00s reboot of a beloved franchise.
And that frustrates me, because when the film is good, it’s good. Starting off with the Cenobites themselves: the designs are fantastic, and Jamie Clayton is a phenomenal Hell Priest/Pinhead. Her casting and performance is the one thing for me that really speaks to what Barker was putting across in all his faction in the 80s and beyond, and when the film finally clarifies their role and how the box works everything really does come together. The whole idea of the Cenobites being entities who have explored the tenets of pleasure and pain further than humanity and delight in playing with our appetites to their own ends is ripe for film, and the callbacks to the insanity of Hellraiser: Hellbound help to sell this particular conceit. Also the way the entire world twists upon itself once the Cenobitesa re let loose: I loved the idea that time and space play differently, so running is absolutely useless.
If only everything didn’t wait to come together until the very end of the film. Instead we’re left with 3/4 of brief deaths that feels like another kind of movie altogether before we get to the “meat” of what it means to be a Hellraiser film.
Oh, well. At least we have the forthcoming television show, right?