Reboots of long-running horror franchises so rarely work out that it’s a wonder producers keep trying them. The 2009 Friday the 13th and 2010 A Nightmare on Elm Street were both dead on arrival, and the Halloween series has turned into such a running joke of multiple reboots overwriting one another that no one can figure out its continuity anymore. Yet here we are with a new Hellraiser anyway. At first glance, the fact that it’s premiering on Hulu rather than in theaters seems like a poor sign that this might not be such a glorious resurrection for Clive Barker’s once-exciting horror property
Honestly, however, the film’s release platform has little bearing on its quality. As much as some people may want to pretend otherwise, we’re still living in pandemic times now and a lot of movies will continue to be redirected from theatrical release to streaming. Also, it’s not like Hellraiser was on particularly steady ground. The series long since faded into direct-to-video oblivion. If anything, a premiere on a major streaming provider is probably a step up from the last few entries. Further, Hulu’s Predator spin-off Prey was very well received just recently. With all that in mind, I held out some small shred of hope that the new Hellraiser might not be completely awful.
|Year of Release:||2022|
Indeed, Hellraiser (2022) is not completely awful. That much comes as a relief. It’s not great either, unfortunately. The movie is a perfectly competent, even respectful extension of the Clive Barker franchise that, at the same time, feels utterly redundant and unnecessary.
I’d argue that it’s not even a reboot, strictly speaking. Aside from some changes to the cast and recycling the title of the very first film, this could be just yet another sequel in a long string of them. Contrary to some misleading publicity suggesting that it would be a fresh adaptation of the underlying source material, the movie has no characters or story in common with either Clive Barker’s novella The Hellbound Heart or with his original Hellraiser film. This is an all-new story featuring all-new characters, set in the same universe. It follows the same rules as every other Hellraiser movie, with little attempt to rewrite or reinvent anything.
Our protagonist this time is Riley (Odessa A’zion), a twenty-something girl with addiction issues and poor taste in men. After allowing her idiot boyfriend, Trevor (Drew Starkey), to rope her into a plot to rob a rich guy’s warehouse, Riley become the latest possessor of a Cenobite puzzle box and, in short order, inadvertently causes her brother, Matt (Brandon Flynn), to get kidnapped by a bunch of freaky demons from hell. Desperate to help him, she traces the box back to a mansion belonging to degenerate sleazebag Roland Voight (Goran Visnjic), who went missing six years earlier but is of course still hiding in the house, awaiting an opportunity to back out of his deal with the Cenobites. For that, he’ll try to sacrifice Riley and the dipshit friends she brought with her, which leads to a lot of routine stalk-and-chase tropes mixed in with some “crazy fucked-up shit” once the Cenobites show up to claim their offerings.
Directed by David Bruckner (V/H/S), the new Hellraiser is a slickly-made, stylish horror flick with nice production values, some creative gore effects, and a reasonably effective creepy vibe that nonetheless treads on well-worn ground and offers nothing particularly new or innovative of its own. The film’s focus on a bunch of boring Millennial characters is a particular weakness, as neither Riley nor any of her friends are interesting in the slightest, and attempts to build some of them up with character development scenes only serve to pile on extra clichés. I’d have much preferred a movie just about Goran Visnjic’s character.
The film’s sole note of interest is the casting of Cenobite leader Pinhead (officially designated “The Priest”) with trans actress Jamie Clayton (Sense8, The L Word: Generation Q), who brings a sense of gender ambiguity to the role that is very fitting with Barker’s original themes. As described in the Hellbound Heart novella, the character was neither clearly male nor female, a trait that was lost with the decidedly masculine performance by previous star Doug Bradley. Clayton makes an effective, intimidating Pinhead in her own right. However, the movie desexualizes all of the Cenobites and dramatically plays down Barker’s S&M fetishism. Although the film does have some sex, all of it occurs between the Millennials before they get to the mansion. Once they arrive, the Cenobites are purely interested in torture and pain, with no kinky sex component any longer. That really seems to miss the point of what made them so thrillingly transgressive in the first place.
As far as I’m aware, Hellraiser (2022) is the first entry in the franchise photographed in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Director David Bruckner and his cinematographer Eli Born have a strong sense of widescreen composition that makes the movie look more expensive than it probably was.
Hulu streams the movie in 4K HDR, though your ability to watch it that way will be device dependent. The Hulu app on my NVIDIA Shield streamer doesn’t support 4K yet, so I had to switch to a Roku instead. Unfortunately, I probably needn’t have bothered. The HDR grade is incredibly dim, with almost no highlights. Scene after scene are swallowed in murky darkness. Yes, I get it, this is a horror movie, but we still need to be able to see something on screen.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is most notable for having no bass at all. I’m serious, none. The music score by Ben Lovett has a number of cues that sound like they’re intended to slam with bass, but the track is so filtered and compressed that they all land with zero impact.
Whether these deficiencies are specific to Hulu’s streaming quality or are inherent to the film itself, I can’t say. Given that this is the only way to watch it currently, I have nothing to compare against. Even in the unlikely event that it should ever be released on a superior format, such as Ultra HD Blu-ray, I don’t foresee myself ever feeling the need to watch this movie again.
2 thoughts on “Put a Pin in It – Hellraiser (2022)”
The inept soundtrack is part of Disney’s policy of making sure their streaming services sound “good” on all play back systems instead of being mixed to sound their best.
I noticed it when I was watching a few episodes of Castle. The volume level was incredibly low…until the commercials were launched onto the screen. The soundtracks are bereft of dynamic range (and most likely bass) because the earbuds (that cost about $0.03 to make) are what most people use to watch this stuff (along with the cheap speakers on their phones); those options can’t handle much range. Those who don’t watch stuff on their phones will end up watching their shows with their easily distorted TV speakers, and the less stress put on them the better – basically, the shows are mastered to sound good on Bose speakers. The commercials are left loud so you don’t miss them.
Tom and Rob at AV Rant talked about it a while back.
I pay $0.99 a month for HULU, and I still feel like I’m overpaying for it.
Take it easy,
I’m still trying to get through this one. I made it through the first 40 minutes but start blacking out afterwards. It feels like there’s no pinhead in it. Maybe I keep blacking out at the wrong moments. This one feels a bit like it borrowed from the Evil Dead remake with the junkie sister with big bro dynamic. It definitely isn’t terrible but it feels longer than it is.