Principal Cast : Odessa A’zion, Jamie Clayton, Adam Faison, Drew Starkey, Brandon Flynn, Aoife Hinds, Jason Liles, Yinka Olorunnife, Selina Lo, Zachary Hing, Kit Clarke, Goran Visnjic, Hiam Abbass.
Synopsis: A young woman struggling with addiction comes into possession of an ancient puzzle box, unaware that its purpose is to summon the Cenobites.


After a decade or more of increasingly desperate and dull sequels, Clive Barker’s Hellraiser franchise resets itself with this slickly made, ice-cold semi-remake of the original film in an attempt to right the ship. Layered in the franchise’s effortless symbolism and, unfortunately, mired in convoluted horror fantasmagoria, Hellraiser’s 2022 edition is a loud, pretentious, derivative chore of a film to get through, although not for lack of trying. Gender-swapping the iconic Doug Bradley for a supple Jamie Clayton as the franchise’s legendary monster Pinhead, director David Bruckner definitely has style to burn and the horror aesthetic running through his veins; he’s encumbered with terrible plotting, awful characters, and an all-pervasive sense that trying to freshen up this decades-old IP would be a ruinous exercise for anyone.

Recovering drug addict Riley (Odessa A’zion) is in an rugged relationship with deadbeat boyfriend Trevor (Drew Starkey), and lives with her brother Matt (Brandon Flynn), his boyfriend Colin (Adam Faison) and their roommate Nora (Aoife Hinds), when, through an act of seemingly random burglary discovers an ancient and mysterious puzzle box, marked with runes and symbols. Mystified, she inadvertently solves one of the puzzles and sets in motion the arrival of the cruel and terrifying Cenobites, led by the Priest (Jamie Clayton), a sadistic demon from the bowels of Hell with a skull pierced by numerous nails, who are intent on causing their victims as much pain and agony as their flesh-tearing powers will elicit. Riley and her friends are mixed into a long-game plot of mysterious billionaire Roland Voight (Goran Visnjic), who wants the Cenobite power all to himself.

As a young man watching the original two Hellraiser films on VHS for the first time, they somehow tapped into a primal level of horror that I hadn’t found with franchise contemporaries such as A Nightmare on Elm Street or Halloween. Whereas other horror franchises were rooted largely in Earthbound terror to a large degree, the hellscape offered by the malignantly wonderful Cenobites, led by Pinhead and a smattering of other grotesquely tortured variants, was a potent mix for my youthful religious upbringing and unskilled fascination with the afterlife. Doug Bradley’s iconic Pinhead was, and remains to this day, one of my all-time favourite horror monster designs, an elegant freakshow designed to distil into a single silhouette the evil and promise of eternal torture and pain the characters would offer. Sadly, Hellraiser’s lustre dropped considerably following the original trilogy’s debuts back in the late 80’s and early 90’s. A series of terrible direct-to-video films bearing the Hellraiser name would evaporate any goodwill audiences had for this once-proud franchise, and increasingly diluted the potency of such a visually stark property.

This 2022 reboot is perhaps more closely aligned to Clive Barker’s conceptual vision than any film since the third film, Hell On Earth, although in saying that there’s an emptiness of soul here ironically undermining all of the production’s great visual work. I think a large portion of the blame can be placed on the film’s hugely specific visual tone, and reliance on style over substance to carry the plodding plot machinations to their blood-soaked conclusion. At least visually, Hellraiser is quite the eye-opener, with the Cenobites looking more like a nightmarish Parisian fashion show with extra gore than terrifying monsters of the underworld, yet as much as one doffs the cap to production designer Kathrin Eder, cinematographer Eli Born and Ben Lovett’s appropriately discordant musical score, there’s an emptiness and withering nastiness beneath the surface that makes this a terribly unlikeable film to watch.

It doesn’t help that the characters are all largely unlikeable. Horror films live or die by the quality of their protagonists, but in Hellraiser almost all are just assholes waiting to be torn asunder by Jamie Clayton’s prickle-skinned minions, and all but Adam Faison’s semi-comedy-relief role aren’t worth the paper they’re written on. Lead actress Odessa A’zion is tasked with the unfortunate role of making drug-addicted Riley, who hasn’t got a single good decision in her whatsoever, an empathetic central character, but that’s a tall ask when everything she says and does just grates badly on the screen. She’s not a bad actress per se, but her character and the direction of her performance is severely hampered by shitty writing and plotting. The young ensemble do a lot of screaming, running, falling and flailing about as they meet their respective fates at the hands of the omnipotent Cenobites, and while the film does a good job of trying to develop the backstory to the hellbound demons it all feels a little too… 80’s horror to really galvanise modern audiences today. Pseudo-religious iconography and barely-there backstory exposition feels clunky to my ear and I really did have to try recalling the original films’ origins of Pinhead and its minions to understand what was going on. Although I had problems with the original Hellraiser at least it delivered a solid foundation; this edition, not so much.

With a plodding story, and truly dreadful characters to watch, the bleak ominousness of Hellraiser’s destitute view of humanity leaves little to enjoy as well. David Bruckner, who gave us the eminently entertaining The Ritual in 2017, understand the visual tones he’s going for and absolutely goes all-in on the kind of horror he wants to tell, but it just never quite seems to work. It’s halfway there, but the strident editing, perplexing subplots and go-nowhere character arcs and an idiotic double-cross at the end makes for headache-inducing viewing. I would recommend Hellraiser for fans only, and only for the terrific new Cenobite designs, but for everyone else you can go ahead and skip it.

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