With streaming platforms like Shudder dedicated to a particular genre, horror films have become a sort after commodity. Whether it’s the Hollywood franchises keeping the genre in the mainstream eye or the indies creating buzz and excitement, there is plenty of room for more variety of films and even delving deeper into sub-genre stories. But with variety comes more diluted quality, the low low budget movies that slip through the cracks. Some might consider this to be a good thing, more filmmakers out there given opportunities to create something new, more horror fans created. However not all will enjoy the homemade stylings of Hellbender.
Izzy and her mother live alone in the mountains. Having been kept isolated, due to an apparent autoimmune disease, Izzy has grown up with no friends and has never even set foot in the near by town. Spending her days playing music with her mother and taking long walks in the woods, she longs for companionship. One day she meets and befriends Amber who lives the other side of the mountain she calls home. While playing a drinking game she accidentally swallows a worm which completely turns her life upside down revealing secrets her mother has tried to protect her from.
Stepping away from a traditional folktale story involving witches or other types of magical and mystical creatures, the story heavily focuses on the mother-daughter relationship rather than verbally talking about the history and abilities that these ‘hellbenders’ have in great detail. The dark nature of the characters being revealed ever so slowly, the feeling of dread and intrigue intertwine but instead of a climatic end, there are instead bursts of horrific pain, flashbacks to the distant past and dream sequences that carry all the intensity so that every other moment falls slightly flat.
The Adams Family, who had previously made The Deeper you Dig back in 2019 are on a roll though, with the film getting into various festivals and receiving favoured reviews. However, with such a small creative team, there is a danger of repeating themselves with Hellbender. Without branching out from genre of bringing in different creatives, the film looks and feels like more of the same. Although it should be acknowledged that they have achieved something intriguing with their filmmaking, everything comes across as minimalistic and at times, psychedelic, but this occult blood soaked horror doesn’t feel fresh, even as the story goes on you hope will.
If you are a horror aficionado and enjoyed the last venture by the Adams Family, then this will be a treat. But for anyone else, the stilted script and somewhat lack of story as well as the feeling that something is missing throughout, this might not be the film you want.
Hellbender is streaming now on Shudder