What is Hellbender about?
Hellbender follows a young woman named Izzy (Zelda Adams) who lives in a simple unassuming home somewhere near the edge of the forest, along with her mother (Toby Poser). The two of them live a fairly easy life, not hurting anyone and playing in a family band called Hellbender (stylistically spelled H6LLB6ND6R). The two of them live a mostly quiet life, except Izzy is just discovering that her family is descended from a long line of witches and she is finally coming into her own powers. Those powers come with a touch of darkness and the more of her own strength that Izzy discovers, the more the bodies start slowly piling up.
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Hellbender is very clearly made with a lot of love since it’s directed, written by and stars the members of the same family and you can tell that they wanted to make something genuinely unnerving together… and to their credit, they did.
Hellbender has a wonderfully surreal feeling that just grows and grows as the film goes on, culminating in an ending that’s gloriously dark and disturbing in both visuals and implication. While you can certainly see the rough edges (like the sharp edge where they digitally edited a room to be darker, for example) that just adds to the charm of the film.
The story of a young witch growing into her powers is a classic and is very hard to screw up, and this film definitely doesn’t do that. Izzy starts as this shy sickly girl who has grown up believing herself to have some kind of illness and the more she learns about her powers, the more she grows in strength and knowledge about the reality of her medical situation.
It’s a fascinating arc for the character to go through and makes her an enjoyable protagonist… up until she goes a little too far to the dark side and the film, cleverly, never really asks us to like her at that point. When these characters do something horrible (and they will, it’s a horror movie, that’s what happens here) the film doesn’t try to pass it off as anything other than disturbing.
Credit where it’s due, for a film clearly made on the cheap they managed to make the best out of what they had in terms of effects. Sure, some shots are a bit noticeably bad but for the most part, they managed to make some cool and creative visuals, particularly in the final confrontation sequence which is a simple set of shots that works wonderfully. The homemade quality takes a moment to adjust to but once you do, it’s really impressive and the tension building is there throughout.
There is a little bit of a lag in the middle, shortly after the pool scene happens and the film just slows drastically and it does kind of make it hard to keep focus… trust me, it’s worth sticking out to get to the ending which is not only disturbing but contains some of the best visuals of the movie. It’s the kind of ending that could pretty much justify just about anything that came before it, worth sticking around just to say you witnessed it happening.
Overall thoughts on Hellbender
Hellbender is full of cheap thrills and it’s got enough charm to make them all work. It really shows just what someone can do with a little ingenuity and a fun idea. It’s not some perfectly polished studio film, it’s a little broken in some places but it makes that work somehow. If you can get past a few visual stumbles and a mild slow spot around the halfway point, Hellbender is a pretty damn good watch.
Hellbender was available as part of the 2021 Fantasia Film Festival
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