It’s finally here – Hulu’s Hellraiser – my most anticipated of the year.
As a lifelong fan of this franchise, I can be a bit excitable as a fanboy anytime a new film is announced. Like a kid a Christmas, really. But what really amplified this excitement and anticipation for the new film is the fact that the filmmakers involved were taking a different approach. They’re not playing in the familiar sandbox; instead, the filmmakers liberate themselves by building their own. This Hell Priest isn’t Elliot Spencer, but rather a different person with the mantle, and It’s also not really a new adaptation of ‘The Hellbound Heart’, nor is it a remake of the first film – instead it’s a reimagining of the myth and lore while telling a completely new story. On top of this, unlike the majority of the sequels from the old franchise, it was conceived and written as a Hellraiser story and has some very competent artists at the helm, and with a decent budget to work with. As much as I don’t mind the latter half of the old franchise, it’s nice to get a Hellraiser film that isn’t made on the cheap just to secure the rights.
Initially I planned on doing a traditional review for the movie, but after attempting to briefly summarize this new film, I decided that I wanted to break this down into two parts: the first being a detailed, spoiler-filled breakdown on the story, new lore, and events in a linear form based on all of the information shown and revealed throughout the movie, and the second being my actual review. If you’re not interested in reading a lay out of the entire movie you likely just watched (understandably so), feel free to scroll down to the review section.
STORY AND LORE BREAKDOWN:
Roland Voight (Goran Visnjic) is a wealthy occult collector with a dangerous obsession. The movie begins with his Lawyer Serena Menaker (Hiam Abbass) in Serbia, where she meets man on Voight’s behalf in an exchange of a large sum of cash for the Lament Configuration. Sometime later, back at Voight’s estate in Massachusetts, a young man named Joey (Kit Clarke), who is clearly out of place, is instructed by Serena to a specific room in the mansion. There, he meets Voight and is drawn to the puzzle box, which is already at a later configuration. Voight convinces Joey to solve it so that he can claim his prize. As Joey shifts the object to its final configuration, a blade extends and cuts into Joey’s hand. Voight hits a switch that locks Joey into the room, and as chains emerge and hook into Joey, Voight picks up the object, now in the Leviathan Configuration, and claims his prize, which is sensation. But his prize is not quite what he imagined and is penetrated through the chest with a piece of machinery that twists his nerves and keeps him in a constant state of pain. Voight fakes a mysterious disappearance and hides into a secret passageway within the walls of his mansion. Serena takes the Lament Configuration, knowing of the evil it brings, and has it locked away in a container elsewhere in the state.
Six years later, Voight hires a former junkie named Trevor (Drew Starkey) to steal the Lament Configuration in an effort for Voight to trap the cenobites so that he can demand an audience with Leviathan. Trevor is also tasked with finding the necessary sacrifices to unlock each of the configurations, and the first is a young woman named Riley (Odessa A’Zion), who struggles with drug addiction, whom he meets at a 12-step program. As the pair begin to date, Trevor falls in love with her, but her brother Matt (Brandon Flynn) doesn’t like him and demands that Riley stops seeing him as he fears that he’ll drag her back down the wrong path. Ignoring her brother’s warnings, Riley turns to Trevor to vent about her over-bearing brother and her current financial hardships that cause her to rely on his support. This opens up the opportunity for Trevor to convince her into joining him break into the container to steal the Lament Configuration.
Not wanting to open the box himself, Trevor allows Riley to have possession of it. Later that night Riley and Matt get into a heated fight and Riley leaves the apartment that Matt shares with his boyfriend, Colin (Adam Faison) and roommate Nora (Aoife Hinds). In a moment of weakness, Riley finds her hidden stash of pills in her car and takes a bunch before wandering to a playground with the Lament Configuration. There she plays with it and solves the first configuration, and the blade extends, but misses her hand. As the drugs begin to take effect, Riley is visited by the cenobites, The Priest (Jamie Clayton) and The Gasp (Selina Lo), who tells her that the blade was intended for her and that she must “feed it”. With the box being in her possession, Riley is marked by the cenobites and the grand prize now awaits her. Matt awakens from a nightmare and is concerned about his sister, so he leaves the apartment in the middle of the night to go find her. He discovers her at the playground passed out and as he attempts to awaken her his hand is cut by the blade, making him the first sacrifice. He gets her conscious again, and while Matt is in the bathroom washing his cut hand, the box takes the shape of its next form, the Lore Configuration, and Matt disappears with a scream.
Believing that the box played a part in her brother’s strange disappearance, Riley becomes desperate to know more about it and where it came from, and she drags a reluctant Trevor along with her to a nursing home where Serena resides, dying of lung cancer. The couple questions Serena on the container and Riley reveals the box to Serena, who warns them both about the situation that they will find themselves in if they continue down this path, just as it happened to Voight. Serena attempts to take the box back and away from the couple, but Riley isn’t ready to give it up as she believes that she needs it in order to find her brother, and fights for it back. In the struggle, the box is twisted yet again and the blade emerges, cutting Serena’s hand. After Riley and Trevor leave, Serena is brought into the world of the cenobites, where she is killed by The Gasp. In the back seat of Riley’s car, the box shifts into its next form, the Lauderant Configuration.
After learning of Serena’s disappearance from the hospital, Trevor makes an effort to take the box away from Riley, but she catches on quickly and once again reclaims it. Eager to know more about the box and Voight, Riley decides to make the trip to Voight’s home. There she sneaks in, discovers the controls for the large gate that surrounds the house and the trap doors inside, and she then begins to explore. She discovers a room loaded with pictures of cenobites pinned to the walls, and books scattered about. She finds Voight’s journals regarding the box, the cenobites, and all of the lore.
Here we learn that the six configurations are:
Lament – Life
Lore – Knowledge
Lauderant – Love
Liminal – Sensation
Lazarus – Resurrection
Leviathan – Power
At some point while she’s reading the journal, Voight sneaks out and steals the box from Riley’s bag. Riley has a vision of her brother, whom she hugs before seeing him skinless. He begs her to bring him back. She is then startled back into reality by Trevor, Colin, and Nora, who have come to find her and bring her back home. She refuses to leave and Colin asks to have some alone time to talk to Riley, so Trevor and Nora walk away to another room. As Riley tries to explain everything she’s learned to Colin, Nora hits a switch that opens up a secret passage way in the walls. While inside, the door slams and she is trapped inside. Trevor goes to the switches looking to find the right one to open it back up, but before he can Voight strikes, stabbing Nora in the back with the blade, eager to move on to the next step quickly.
Riley, Trevor, Colin, and Nora flee the house desperate to get Nora to a hospital, but while in the van, Nora is transported into the cenobite world where we see The Priest, The Weeper (Yinka Olorunnife), The Masque (Vukasin Jovanovic), and The Chatterer (Jason Liles), and they kill her. The sudden disappearance of Nora from the back of the van causes a distraction that makes Trevor go off the road and crash the van.
As Colin and Trevor argue, Riley takes the box and runs away, looking to throw it into a nearby river, but she’s stopped by the Priest, who tells her that they want her to proceed as there are only two sacrifices left. The Priest promises her that if she does, Matt can be resurrected. Riley refuses to sacrifice anyone, and the Priest causes the next motion that leads the box to move on and the blade cuts Riley’s hand. Now they have her blood and can collect her at anytime unless she chooses to offer up the sacrifices herself.
Riley, Trevor and Colin flee back to the house on foot with The Chatterer in pursuit. The Chatterer traps Riley and Trevor behind the gate at the entrance of the driveway, and bites into Trevor’s arm. Riley stabs the Chatterer with the blade from the box. Knowing what it means, the Chatterer steps back and awaits as the Priest’s chains tear into him and rip him apart. The trio run back to the house with all of the cenobites in toe. Once inside, Riley activates the gates surrounding the house, keeping the Cenobites outside.
As Riley and Colin are in another room discussing their options, Voight sneaks out and confronts Trevor, revealing his involvement in everything that has happened. Trevor promises that, despite the hiccups, the plan is moving forward and is almost complete. Meanwhile, Riley forms a plan in which she intends to open the gates so that they can lure a single Cenobite into the home in an effort to make one of them the final sacrifice. They proceed with the plan, luring in The Asphyx (Zachary Hing), before closing the gates again. Inside, the Asphyx chases after Riley; she collides with a pillar, forcing her to drop the box, but just before the Cenobite can get to her, Trevor closes the interior gate, causing it to get stuck. As Colin looks for the box so that Riley can make the final sacrifice, Voight remerges, cutting Colin with the blade instead. Here Voight reveals to Riley that Trevor has been working for him, and he explains to her that the prize promised by the Cenobites is a trick, and a perversion of what was promised. Voight gets Trevor to open the exterior gates to let the Cenobites in, and Riley shouts for Colin to quickly leave before they get to him. Trevor follows Colin, needing to keep him close by for Voight. As the Priest and the others enter, with The Gasp and The Mother (Gorica Regodic) in pursuit of Colin, Voight hits a switch that traps all of the Cenobites; he wants an audience with Leviathan and believes that capturing the Cenobites will give him leverage.
As Voight confronts the Priest, Riley sneaks out, steals the box, which is now in its final form, the Leviathan Configuration, and opens the gates, freeing the Cenobites. The Priest engages with Voight, who refuses the gift given to him, and allows him an exchange from Sensation to Power. The machinery in his chest breaks free and his wounds begin to heal, but moments later a chain from the Leviathan above strikes through the roof and pierces his chest, pulling him upwards to claim his prize of power. Elsewhere in the mansion, Riley makes a deal with the Gasp and exchanges Colin’s life for Trevor’s; she stabs Trevor, marking him as the final sacrifice, and the Gasp kills him.
Riley confronts the Priest who asks her what prize she would like, but Riley, having listened to Voight’s story (and seeing his condition), chooses to not accept a prize, particularly that of Resurrection for her brother, as she knows that a trick will likely be in store, and so her choice is the Lament/Life option.
The film ends with Voight receiving his prize and getting turned into a Cenobite, and in a way, revealing to us that every Cenobite has previously made the sacrifices while in possession of the box and chosen power as their rewards.
First and foremost, the film is extremely well done on a technical level. The direction and cinematography are fantastic, as it is visually beautiful; it’s well shot, well lit, and brings a quality of storytelling that this franchise has not had for a very long time. However, the most impressive element of its technical achievement is the sound design, and especially the score from composer Ben Lovett, who infuses an impressive new score with the brilliant themes from Christopher Young’s work on the first two films.
I really liked the new design and lore of the Lament Configuration, particularly how it took new shapes and configurations with different meanings, and how it served as an integral part to the story. At first, I wasn’t sure what to think about the ideas of sacrifices and prizes, but I do find them to be refreshing new additions to the franchise.
Speaking of new designs, I really liked the look of the Cenobites. I think it was an interesting choice to ditch the black leather and instead have flayed flesh serve as their “clothing”, and I think they all looked good. I particularly liked the look of The Gasp, who appeared to be a cross between the Female Cenobite/Deep Throat from the first two films and Angelique from Bloodline.
The acting was solid all around, with the standouts being Goran Visnjic as Voight, Jamie Clayton as the Hell Priest, and Selina Lo as The Gasp. I will also say that Odessa A’Zion gives a strong performance as Riley, even though her character isn’t written as particularly likeable due to all of her character flaws.
As far as the gore goes, I do agree with those who find this to be a bit tame in comparison to what we have seen before. I don’t quite feel the pain of the violence in this as I do while watching the older films, particularly the first two. This new film is in a way the light beer of the franchise.
Overall, I really loved this new movie. I found it to be a refreshing, interesting, and a very entertaining entry in the series, and I am stoked to see what is to come from this new direction moving forward.