Although I’ve been aware of Hellraiser as a cultural phenomenon, I’ve never seen the original film. This puts me in a great position to talk about the latest film entry in its own right, outside of the 1987 film and its subsequent releases. I was excited to watch it – both as a horror buff, and as someone who can stomach quite a bit of body horror.
Despite the slow initial pace, most of the movie impressed me. After finishing it, I have some qualms, but let’s get into a quick synopsis before we dive into spoiler territory.
The story follows Riley (Odessa A’zion) and her boy toy Trevor (Drew Starkey) as they break into a shipment container, only to find the infamous puzzle box. Her brother Matt (Brandon Flynn) goes missing shortly after, and she resolves to figure out what happened and how to get him back. Rounding out the cast are Adam Faison as Matt’s boyfriend Colin, Aoife Hinds as Norah, and Goran Višnjić as the billionaire Mr Voight.
The first 30 minutes are a bit slow as these new characters are introduced – but for the rest of the gruesome runtime, but if you have the stomach for some intense and incredibly creative body horror, it’s definitely worth the wait. Although I initially found it hard to care about these characters, their terrifying encounters and incredibly smart thinking in life-or-death scenarios made me gasp here and there and, eventually, start to root for them.
Let’s talk about my favourite things about the movie, because I have many.
First and foremost, this movie is gory. Although not the worst body horror I’ve seen, the practical effects really stand out in a genre that’s become heavily reliant on CGI. Of course, Hellraiser (2022) has CGI moments, but a good majority of the effects are very clearly practical; particularly for the design of the cenobites and the suburban set design by Djurdjevic Olga and a hardworking crew, whose efforts truly shine. The cenobites, the Chatterer, The Weeper, and The Asphyx stand out with their unique designs and horrifying torture methods.
They’re helped by some fantastic sound design from Ric Schnupp and his team. I can never again hear teeth chattering without feeling a chill run down my spine. There are also some incredible shots in this by cinematographer Eli Born. My favourite is one of Norah in the van while the group flees from Voight’s mansion – keep an eye out for it on Aesthetic Movie Shot Twitter.
My favourite part of the movie is the Priest (aka Pinhead), played by Sense8‘s Jamie Clayton – whom I didn’t even recognize under the amazing makeup until I looked at the credits. As a trans horror nerd, it brings me so much joy to see such a talented trans actress take on such an iconic role. As a gender non-conforming person, it gives me so much joy to see a more androgynous take on Pinhead while still keeping the original’s iconic style intact. The way they walked, the way they spoke, and how, even with full black sclera lenses, their eyes were pointed and making clear eye contact with the camera – it sent chills down my spine every. Single. Time. Clayton’s stellar performance alone is worth the watch.
I do have a couple of gripes, beginning with the slow pacing in the beginning. There were plot holes here and there, as with any kind of cinema featuring otherworldly gods and chaos, but the script did improve as it went. However, with the exception of Riley, there didn’t seem to be much development for any of the characters.
Once you’ve finished Hellraiser (2022), you may have more questions that call for a second watch. I’ll be watching it in theatres again, though I know some of my questions won’t be answered by multiple viewings. I also wish there were more scares – but the film succeeded in leaving me with an anxious ache in my chest.
My biggest gripes are the lack of diversity and the unfortunate use of the Bury Your Gays trope. The actors did well, but I wish the main cast featured more POC other than Faison and Hinds. My other major problem is with the killing of a gay character – one who had barely any characterization at all. Perhaps cutting the first 10 minutes would’ve given viewers a better understanding of how these characters’ dynamics.
All in all, Hellraiser (2022) is a great showcase of how amazing modern practical effects can be. Horror fans will definitely get a kick out of it.
Hellraiser (2022) is out on October 7, 2022, on Hulu.