Review of Hellraiser: Tired Reboot Reeks of Unrealized Potential.
Even going so far as to say that if someone had shown him a plate of spaghetti and referred to it as a type of lens, he would have believed them, the renowned horror author and filmmaker Clive Barker has often remarked about his directorial debut, Hellraiser, that he had virtually no idea what he was doing while making it. Hellraiser was Clive Barker’s first attempt at directing a feature film.
However, despite the fact that David Bruckner, the director of this innovative streaming reboot, may have a considerable amount of experience, his creation does not even come close to competing with the (literary) visionary of someone like Barker.
Hellraiser was a modest success that led to the creation of a ten-title franchise and was adapted from Clive Barker’s own novella The Hellbound Heart. And even if, between a number of non-theatrical releases, the Hellraiser brand doesn’t exactly promise quality, the blandness of this reboot (don’t expect it to spawn even one sequel, let alone nine) feels like it does something of a disservice to the iconography and darker implications of a series that nonetheless maintains a cultural footprint even 35 years later.
What we end up with is a fairly challenging two hours, with actors who are remarkably uninteresting and fail to justify our interest for such a long period of time. Riley (Odessa A’zion), played by Odessa A’zion, is the unremarkable lead character.
Riley is a recovering addict who lives in a cramped apartment with her worried brother Matt (Brandon Flynn) and his partner Colin (Adam Faison). She is adrift and helpless in life, so she decides to try a get-rich-quick scheme with a tip from her support-group boyfriend Trevor (Drew Starkey), who encourages theft from a safe that appears to be easily accessible. This scheme involves stealing from the safe.
She finds herself in possession of a mysterious puzzle box, also known as the Lament Configuration, which is of course a wicked contraption that produces a surprise blade when activated. Real heads will be familiar with this. After a tedious procedural involving the box’s history and an occult collector played by Goran Visnjic takes place, dead bodies begin to pile up on the floor of the house.
One of the most significant flaws of Hellraiser is that we are never given any sense of the protagonist’s troubled past. The emotional stakes of “pain or pleasure” are more of a spoken text than a deeply felt theme. This may be partly the fault of the hair and makeup department, which did a job that was remarkably unconvincing in terms of portraying “unkempt millennials.”
But in all honesty, the whole thing smells like a streaming product, and even a low-budget direct-to-video sequel like Hellraiser V: Hell on Earth (an early work from Scott Derrickson) has far more in the way of creepy atmosphere and set pieces than this so-called grand reintroduction to Pinhead and the rest of the gang.
Cenobites, the enduring monsters of the series that have given rise to designs that are both terrifying and memorably ridiculous (one in the third installment literally shoots CDs), generally look like uninspiring and plastic Halloween costumes. Really, there is only one particularly cruel and memorable gory scene involving a nail that gets under your skin, but by the time the movie is over, you will feel a little worn out from seeing those trademark hooks and chains shoot from the walls again.
Jamie Clayton does a good job as the new Pinhead, a character who, to be honest, has always been more about the cool design than the performance by Doug Bradley.
However, she highlights the unrealized potential for the role. It was an encouraging sign that this new Hellraiser would embrace Clive Barker’s queer themes when the transgender actress was cast in the role; however, the film feels (despite the presence of a gay couple) to be so devoid of sex, lust, or danger that it might as well not have bothered to make the effort at all. It mainly reveals the largely conservative nature of the once (supposedly) liberating streaming economy, which is a true missed opportunity.