Sunday, March 12, 2023

Hellraiser 2022 - Review

Over the last 35 years, Hellraiser has become a household name and a behemoth in the horror genre. Even if someone doesn't recognize the title of the film, all you have to say is, “the guy with all the nails in his head”, and they immediately know what you are talking about. 

It began as a novella by Clive Barker, an absolutely legendary horror author whose work combines the grotesque and the horrific with beautiful sensuality, woven seamlessly together. The novella was called The Hellbound Heart, and it was published in 1986. A year later Clive Barker, himself, directed the film adaptation of the story into the iconic picture we have all come to know as Hellraiser. It became a classic in no time, with the instantly recognizable villain of the film, Pinhead (aptly named for the nails that jut in all directions from his pasty white skull), donning the cover of 9 additional sequels (although Clive Barker only directed the original film) and now, a remake. 

The film begins establishing some loose exposition to introduce the Lament Configuration, which is the name for the puzzle box featured in all the Hellraiser movies–sort of a main character, in itself. 

This puzzle box (think of it as a demonic rubix cube) is sought out by those who have attained every natural high–be it by drugs, sex, or money–and are seeking a new dimension of pleasure.

 In the 2022 Hellraiser, the puzzle box is acquired by Roland Voight: some ultra-wealthy, mansion-owning, orgy-hosting… guy. We really don't get to know anything about him in the short pre-title exposition, other than he's super wealthy, he owns a mansion, hosts orgies, and he has acquired the puzzle box through some mysterious connection. And he has no problem giving the Lament Configuration exactly what it wants–blood sacrifice. 

With that, we now switch to what will become the main characters for the rest of the film: recovering addict twenty-something Riley, her protective brother and roommate Matt and his boyfriend Colin, and Riley's sketchy “boyfriend” (this is a loose term), Trevor, who her brother strongly disapproves of. Mostly because Trevor is an active addict and obvious low-life. 

When Riley complains of being “sick of being broke”, Trevor casually suggests they rob a warehouse, to which Riley has zero questions or concerns, so off they go. After breaking into a teeny tiny safe that is the sole item in a walk-in shipping container, they find, within, a wooden box. And you know what’s in the box, right? Another box! The puzzle box… 

Now to the review. Comparisons between the new and original film may be made. How can they not be? It is a remake, after all, of a classic and near-perfect film. I won’t say I’m wholly against remakes, but in cases such as these I can’t help but wonder “why”? Is it just a cash grab to profit off a popular film? Is it a way to gain a new generational audience by “updating” the film to a current day setting with current vernacular, music, fashion, etc? And if the latter is the case, then why? Why do films need to be updated? Do we think that the cycles of generations won’t have an interest or appreciation in older films? And on top of that, by making it so obviously “modern”, you are just going to age the film down the line. By commercially stylizing it, you are just putting a timestamp on precisely when the film was made; and with no deeper creative choices driving that, most likely in a decade from now the film will just look tacky.

 The runtime is just over two hours. I’m more partial to a cool 90 minute feature, especially since this film felt extremely drawn out. I actually watched the first hour of the movie sometime in November and didn’t finish it until nearly 3 months later. 

One of my complaints was that it took WAY too long to get a decent look at the cenobites (the demons that dole out the punishments and “rewards” of those who solve the puzzle box). Personally, I’m of the feeling that if I am watching a film with monsters, I don’t want to play the game of hide and seek, building up with a glimpse here and there. I want to see the fucking monsters.

 I was most excited to see the designs they chose for the cenobites, but most scenes of them are overly dark and it’s nearly impossible to make them out. Apparently the film chose to use mostly practical effects over CGI, which is my personal preference when, well, practical–but I felt it wasn’t really properly showcased due to low lighting and heavy use of filters. The only one we do get a decent eyeful of is the main cenobite, leader of the pack, she who would be Pinhead. 

Pinhead (who is still clearly donning pins in the head) is now credited as “the Priest”. Up until this point Pinhead has been played by a man (Doug Bradley in the first 7 films). In 2022 Hellraiser, “the Priest” is now played by Jamie Clayton and appears more feminized, but still androgynous. I was a little underwhelmed by the portrayal of the priest, I found the character to be a bit dull and lifeless, and I would have liked to appreciate the full costume she is donning which required roughly 4 hours of make-up. I don’t place blame on actress Jamie Clayton, though. She doesn’t run the set lighting and she didn’t write the script, and after watching and reading several interviews with her she expressed being genuinely excited and honored to have been given this role and even has the blessing of original Pinhead, Doug Bradley, himself. 

I know that the nature of media in this day and age—in this case, movies—is to remake, reboot, and reimagine; but in my opinion it’d be a lot more interesting to use the time, energy, and resources to craft an entirely new film, and instead allow people to seek out or revisit the original film.


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