Directed by David Bruckner.
Starring Odessa A’zion, Jamie Clayton, Adam Faison, Drew Starkey, Brandon Flynn, Aoife Hinds, Jason Liles, Yinka Olorunnife, Selina Lo, Zachary Hing, Goran Visnjic, Hiam Abbass, Predrag Bjelac, Gorica Regodić, Vukašin Jovanović, and Kit Clarke.
A take on Clive Barker’s 1987 horror classic where a young woman struggling with addiction comes into possession of an ancient puzzle box, unaware that its purpose is to summon the Cenobites.
The iconic Hellraiser puzzle box (Lemarchand’s Box) – a key to a realm of S&M- style pleasure and punishment run by legitimately freaky-looking demons known as Cenobites – would resemble what filmmakers have felt for years failing at crafting worthwhile sequels and expanding on the mythology if it weren’t so easy to solve by nearly every protagonist.
Director David Bruckner (alongside a screenwriting team consisting of Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski, a story from David S. Goyer, and based on characters created from horror maestro Clive Barker appearing in his novella The Hellhound Heart, having also directed the 1987 original) is next in line, responsible for last year’s The Night House, led by a chilling turn from Rebecca Hall.
It is accurate to say that David Bruckner has repeated himself here with this Hellraiser reboot, having made a film filled with undeniably impressive leading performances but one that struggles regarding narrative momentum, character depth, and an overly long running time.
Addressing the elephant in the room, Jamie Clayton is unnervingly fantastic as Pinhead, here with a new disturbing look (the designs across the board are terrifying). There’s no attempt at shying away from impalement wounds, skin-ripping, chain-tying, all with some nightmare fuel visual compositions playing up the “are they angels or demons” aspect of the Cenobites. The voices and elaborate costumes are also first-rate, with all of the above benefiting from a focus on practical effects (most likely enhanced with CGI).
However, be prepared to sit around waiting for roughly an hour before Hellraiser reaches those heights (or, depending on one’s perspective, plunges down that dementedly entertaining path). The script makes a near-fatal mistake in assuming these characters are as interesting as they seem on paper or in comparison to the film’s intriguingly messed up but truthful thematic message.
This is no fault of Odessa A’zion, who plays Riley, a former addict who met current partner Trevor (Drew Starkey) in rehab (because that’s a surefire recipe for a successful relationship). She commands the screen whether she is doubting her sanity at the expense of drugs, acting out like a typical addict, or demonstrating her wits and resourcefulness once the puzzle box game is crystallized.
Riley is also joined by her brother Matt (Brandon Flynn) and his boyfriend Colin (Adam Faison), who live with their roommate. Both couples have a healthy sexual relationship, which is appropriate for a horror franchise known for dabbling in BDSM but also disappointingly tame here as if the quick sex scenes are more of an obligation than anything.
Nevertheless, Riley and Trevor come into the puzzle box after the latter explores an abandoned warehouse and views them as financially lucrative artifacts to be sold. It’s also not long before Riley begins playing with the box, triggering a series of events leading to her brother Matt’s disappearance.
It’s baffling that anyone thought a reboot of a franchise that has been on life-support for decades should push anywhere near two hours, let alone cross that mark. Admittedly, there is reason to initially spend some time with these characters and explore how the twisted fate of the puzzle box correlates with substance abuse, but that, too, is lacking.
David Bruckner has ambitions to reboot Hellraiser as drama and horror, with only the second half of that equation proving fruitful. But don’t put a pin in anything yet, because the results tease promising future installments, should the studio want to go down that route. Once the second hour set inside an eerie manor kick in, allowing more action from the Cenobites, Hellraiser has more bite itself, serving up some delicious gore and absorbingly sadistic imagery.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at [email protected]
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