The story opens with eccentric hedonist Roland Voight [Višnjić] sacrificing an unwilling sex worker – using a mechanical puzzle box to gain an audience with otherworldly entities. Six years later, we are introduced to Riley [A’zion], a recovering addict and prodigal black sheep. Living with her brother Matt [Flynn], proves stressful for Riley and in order to pay the rent and reduce the tension between them, she agrees to her boyfriend Trevor’s [Starkey] suggestion to break-in to a storage container. Inside the container is the puzzle box from earlier, albeit now a simple cube shape. Riley comes home and clashes with her brother, before relapsing, taking a handful of pills and solving the first step of the box. When her brother comes looking for her, he cuts himself on the box’s protruding blade and disappears. Which sets Riley down a path she cannot deviate from.
Hellraiser is yet another 21st century reboot of a classic horror franchise. The original has its fanbase but it isn’t growing further and latching on mediocre sequels has proven fruitless. So, to a degree, a reboot of this nature, makes sense. Thankfully, Hellraiser is one of the rare exceptions – a genuinely enjoyable stab at telling this story for a new audience.
On a technical level, I can’t sing Hellraiser’s praises enough. The cinematography is both luscious (and yes, admittedly very dark at times) but also a throwback to the grounded colours and vignetting of 80s and 90s cinema. This, of course, mirrors the exceptional production design, utilising the various locations in Serbia, as well as simply great use of space. Case in point, anything connected to the cenobites is given room and majesty: the lazarus configuration at the centre of the collection room, the safe in the middle of the shipping container, it all feels like the world is naturally pulling away from these cursed artefacts. And then there’s the visceral practical effects one would expect from a Hellraiser film, as well as Ben Lovett’s playful whistling score, interjected with deep stabs and haunting strings – again, feeling like a throwback to something from 30-40 years ago, while retaining a modern lilt.
The performances are equally standout, largely thanks to the dysfunctional family melodrama between Matt and Riley being compelling and believable. Which grounds the film before it dives off the horror deep end. The performances also go a long way to sell one of this movie’s strongest comparative analogies: addiction. Ultimately, Hellraiser is a story of obsession and the futile search for greater highs. Treating us to pleasing choices like the juxtaposition between a small golden box full of pills, tempting the addict, and the small golden box of horrors doing the same thing. Subsequently, it feels as much a mystery film unfolding, as it is the out-and-out torture horror that people may be expecting. And thanks to decent pacing and momentum building throughout, we unlock more and more reveals and confrontations as the box gets closer and closer to being solved.
That being said, it’s not a perfect production. Sidestepping comparisons to the established canon and the ten prior releases (because we all know franchise loyalists will fervently cling to the earlier films), this latest reboot has its own issues. It would have been nice to see further development of the motivations behind the character’s actions. Without spoiling certain reveals, there are a handful of decisions made that could have been better fleshed out, considering the two hour runtime. On top of that, there’s something lacking with the cenobites. I have no real problem with the way these eerie beings glide menacingly toward their victims and there’s a sadistic curiosity to each form. But the designs will be polarising. On the one hand, they are unique and engaging in their grotesquery. While on the other, they can be a little silly at times. For every repulsive wince inducing facet, there is a brow furrowing counterpoint. The design and detail are magnificent but the alabaster skin doesn’t cause the hairs on your neck to stand on end. Because it all feels too polished, waxy and fake. I can absolutely see what they were going for but regrettably it just misses the mark.
Hellraiser is yet another Hulu original that I wish I’d seen on a big screen. Along with the fantastically impressive Prey, we have been given a compelling feature, that had it legs cut out from under it before it could run. Which is a damned shame because, to my mind, this film rivals Hellbound: Hellraiser II as the strongest in the franchise.
UK – TBA
The Scene To Look Out For:
As the film marches to its conclusion, we are shown what happens when the box is finally solved. The track ‘Cenobite Invasion’ punches in with an eerie majesty and the visuals feel straight out of the 80s – in a good way – like a dark greyscale monolith matte painting. The whole thing evokes a sense of trespassing into a euclidean nightmare.
As stated, the cenobites are haunting and creepy but none more so than Jamie Clayton as Hell Priest (the character we often dub Pinhead). Clayton offers a more.. for lack of a better word.. loving interpretation than we’ve seen to date. The Hell Priest is obviously a monstrous creation but she also wants others to experience the delights that she has undergone. Unlike how the role has been portrayed in the past, Clayton doesn’t give off a tyrannical energy. More a messenger of something to be celebrated – which is a superbly twisted direction to take the character in.
“Roland used to see them all the time. Angels, he’d call them. You’d think a devil would know a devil.”
In A Few Words:
“A wonderful reimagining of a franchise that had been stretched too thin over the years.”
Total Score: 4/5