“You’d think a devil would know a devil.”
Jobless and struggling through a twelve-step program, Riley (Odessa A’zion) crashes at the apartment of her older brother Matt (Brandon Flynn) and his boyfriend Colin (Adam Faison). Ignoring the concerns of both the guys and their roommate Nora (Aoife Hinds) about “the new boyfriend” Trevor (Drew Starkey), Riley breaks into a warehouse with him for an easy score… only to discover a worthless-looking ornate puzzle box. Matt confronts his sister when she returns with booze on her breath, ending badly when Riley leaves in the night. A chain of events is set into motion when Matt disappears going after her — not the first time someone has vanished whenever the box turns up — because every decision Riley makes afterward seems to come with a cost in blood.
Hearing that The Night House director David Bruckner was heading up a rework of the 1987 Hellraiser sounded promising enough even before author and first-film director Clive Barker came on board as a producer. The original films of their time didn’t have the effects budgets of Ghostbusters or Poltergeist, relying instead on matte paintings and older animation effects to create their in-movie world. Fortunately, intense practical makeup and Barker’s concept of otherworldly “explorers in the further regions of experience” championed the possibilities nonetheless. Not all of the sequels in the prior Hellraiser franchise have lived up to its concept, apparently adapting unrelated scripts into new installments to maintain sequel rights — “Let’s add Doug Bradley’s Pinhead in a cameo and put him on the poster!” — but can Bruckner solve the puzzle to unlock a new configuration and resurrect the film series?
There’s something eerie about Odessa A’zion as Riley, channeling a scrappy Candleshoe-era Jodie Foster, a leading presence in every scene. An addict who keeps falling off the wagon seems an unlikely protagonist hero — just ask Freddy Krueger — but in a Hellraiser story, she’s irresistible to the voyeuristic, sensation-seeking Cenobites because they can relate. Similar to The Night House, the cinematography echoes a love story more than a horror film, highlighting character complexity and duality in lingering shots. Keeping the plot simple and effects grounded propels the story forward to stalk its victims; by the time the reworked Cenobites appear led by The Priest (Jamie Clayton), fans and newcomers alike will know how far Hellraiser has grown beyond its origins in “The Hellbound Heart.”
The original Christopher Young soundtrack is lovingly echoed by composer Ben Lovett, specifically from the first and second Hellraiser films. The puzzle box has never looked or sounded better, from the clockwork clicking of each turned segment to its signature detail in every configuration, as much a sentient thing as the Leviathan. As worlds begin to merge, modern movie magic makes the physical set transitions echo the puzzle box movements, as if hell dimensions are always just behind a secret wall or beneath the floorboards, waiting to be called upon if one knows the secret combination to access it. Even the practical effects of the Cenobites have been significantly upgraded, forsaking the S&M leather-work for full body modification “beyond the limits of human endurance.” Demons to some, angels to others, but no one escapes until all accounts are settled… one way or another.
This modern rework couldn’t exist without the films and stories that came before it, and it’s a lot to ask for older actors to endure the physical discomfort to become the creatures they once portrayed through practical effects. Their legacy echoes in the new film, told in a superior form the story deserves, guided by caretakers who understand as fans themselves. No, Hellraiser isn’t for everyone, but for everyone it is: more of this, please and thank you. Don’t make us beg.
Hellraiser 2022 is rated R for strong bloody horror violence and gore, language throughout, some sexual content, brief graphic nudity, and “enough” being a myth.
Four skull recommendation out of four