The 2022 relaunch of the horror franchise “Hellraiser” frequently resembles an artistic and overly-produced homage to Clive Barker’s sexy and occasionally really nightmare-inducing 1987 stunner “Hellraiser.” The film, which is a respectable adaptation of Barker’s 1986 novella The Hellbound Heart, is characterized by its sluggish pacing, jumbled focus, and strong ghastliness.
Watching the first “Hellraiser” still makes you feel as though you’ve just happened upon a vulgar, if well-known, incident. Barker introduces the Cenobites, a race of demon-like sadists that threaten human victims with sensual sensations well beyond their (or our) worn-out conceptions of pleasure and suffering, to readers in that film. The new “Hellraiser” pays homage to Barker’s original version in the same way that a great cover song does: with affection, intelligence, and an unavoidably depressing level of repetition. Although “Hellraiser” is not necessary, it can occasionally be entertaining even if you haven’t seen it in a long.
This “Hellraiser,” created 35 years and nine sequels after the original, feels obedient and staid, in contrast to Barker’s version, which expressed his distinctive sensibility and preoccupations. Since the creators of the most recent film uncomfortably splice an occasionally inspired monster movie onto the back of a character study that focuses on trauma, the most ingenious additions to the “Hellraiser” canon will only be obvious to devoted fans. Former junkie Riley (Odessa A’zion), who is grieving, encounters the Cenobites while searching for her missing brother Matt (Brandon Flynn), who had reprimanded Riley for continuing to date Trevor despite his dubious character (Drew Starkey).
However, the Cenobites and Riley’s character-defining knowledge that she is the target of forces that are completely beyond her control are not properly connected by director David Bruckner (“The Night House,” “The Ritual”) and co-writers Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski’s meticulous rehash. Of course, she is correct, as is Matt, who vanishes shortly after he and Riley have a heated argument. They quarrel about Riley’s unpredictable conduct, which really refers to her friendship with cavalier Trevor, who continues to drink around Riley despite the fact that Riley is enrolled in a 12-step program.
Since so much of the plot revolves around the presence and subsequent disappearance of the Cenobites, neither Trevor nor Matt’s relationship with Riley changes much over time (it’s 121 minutes long, people). Riley steals and unintentionally unlocks a gilded puzzle box, prompting them to pursue her. Riley, however, only grabs the box—which horror enthusiasts will immediately identify as a means of calling forth the Cenobites—because Trevor prods her to do so. In the futile belief that conquering the box will bring Matt back to her, Riley merely furthers her involvement in the Cenobites’ narrative, which links the box with its previous owner, the elusive rich guy bohemian Mr. Voight (Goran Visnjic).
Riley’s roommate Nora (Aoife Hinds) and the other characters in this new “Hellraiser,” such as Matt’s lover Colin (Adam Faison), are simply given enough personality to respond to any potential danger that might occur as a result of Riley’s search for answers. It wouldn’t be as horrible if there weren’t so much dead air throughout—seriously, one hundred and twenty-one—which mostly offers viewers time to question who exactly these new Cenobites are and why their enigmatic personalities suddenly have all the charm of well-restored hand-me-downs.
Granted, the Cenobites’ redesigns give them an appropriately unsettling appearance, and they are cleverly portrayed in this story as inter-dimensional sharks that leisurely circle around Riley and her pals to establish their reflexive brutality. With a few particularly disturbing scenes, Bruckner, who has already established his reputation for effects-driven shock scares in his two previous works, furthers that claim. A REDACTED entering REDACTED’S REDACTED surprised me.
Additionally, Bruckner supports what his excellent but uneven earlier film, “The Night House,” hinted at in terms of his casual disregard for character development and narrative coherence. Even the torturous demise of Serena (Hiam Abbass), Voight’s worn-out assistant, feels unimportant because neither the setting sequences nor her eons-long struggle with the Cenobites reflect Serena’s character. Abbass’s appearances in English-language shows are always welcome, but the poor woman can only do so much with a supporting role that is more like a prop than a real person.
Even yet, if you’ve watched or liked Barker’s “Hellraiser,” there’s a chance you’ll like Bruckner’s version as well. It doesn’t really improve on Barker’s initial character conceptions, which were really just excellent narrative suggestions to begin with, and it doesn’t really connect together properly from scene to scene. However, there are enough exciting callbacks and scary moments to keep you waiting impatiently for what will happen next.
Photo Credits: https://www.imdb.com/