Hellbender ⭐️⭐️ Review by Andrea Carnevali
A lonely teen discovers her family’s ties to witchcraft. Available on Shudder.
This ultra-low budget folk horror is the latest effort from the Adams family (no, not that one), the self-taught film-making family of four (father, mother and two daughters) who over the last ten years, after packing up their life into an RV and criss-crossing the country, have made five feature films.
These are pretty unique examples of DYI film making in which they all co-direct, produce, film and edit their films (apparently whoever is not in the scene films the others).
Hellbender is possibly their most accomplished and fleshed out film so far, though in many ways it still feels like an interesting student film and I’m afraid not more than that, despite an incredible 96% on Rotten Tomatoes.
It is a sort of coming-of-age tale, which takes elements from some classic horror (The Village, Carrie, and even certain episodes from the X-Files), mixes them with themes about witchcraft and makes them its own.
This is certainly a slow burner, all about mood, foreboding atmosphere and creepy overtones, so if you like your horror full of special effects and jump-scares, you’d better look elsewhere.
We see echoes of Brian De Palma’s Carrie in the relationship between a mother and a daughter living in isolation, in a farm in the middle of a forest.
Just when we think we know what’s going on, the film takes a different direction, and turns into something more and more surreal.
The film is full of trippy sequences, mad punk rock and some interesting camera angles, but in the end you’re left with a story which doesn’t really go anywhere, it doesn’t resolve into anything and despite its ambition and some of its imagery, it left me a bit baffled and very unsatisfied.
Maybe I didn’t understand it, but I find it hard to reconcile with the high rating from all critics around me.
I thought the most interesting thing was the actual family behind the scenes, as opposed to anything on the screen.
Having said that, I can see there’s a lot of potential in the Adams and I look forward to seeing what they do next.
Andrea Carnevali is a Bafta winning film maker who lives in Chiswick.
Hellbender is available to stream on Shudder.
See all Andrea’s film reviews here: Film reviews by Andrea Carnevali
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