Hellraiser XI: Revisited (2022)
Dir. David Bruckner (2022)
In the first legitimate reboot of the cult classic original, a young woman struggling with addiction finds a puzzle box that opens the door to the Hell Dimension.
CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
It hasn't been that long since I reviewed Hellraiser 2022, but when I watched it on release there were at least half a dozen of the original sequels that I had never seen before. That is not, of course, in any way to say that you need to see any of the other films in the series before watching this one, but I thought it might be worth taking a new look at the most recent film through the lens of having recently watched all of the other ones. One thing I could practically guarantee, especially after checking out Hellraiser: Judgment, is that I would have a renewed appreciation of the remake after seeing just how low the series could go.
I believe that I judged this one a bit too harshly the first time around, whether that is a reflection of the previous letdowns or my own expectations on first watch that were perhaps a bit too high. I still believe a lot of my original critique to be accurate, in that the Hulu-exclusive Hellraiser reboot is lacking a lot of what made the original so special, and that it becomes more of a morality tale than a treatise on the undulating relationship between sex and death. It also feels like a direct appeal to the millennial viewer, showing a world with which many are already familiar without explaining or delving too deeply on addiction and comeuppance for those who are not. It's sort of Hellraiser by way of Euphoria. What I missed the first time around, however, is all of the things that this film got right.
The first thing that I really need to focus on is the utter perfection of casting Jamie Clayton as The Priest and the efforts made to differentiate herself from Doug Bradley's Pinhead. And let's be honest a bit about this: it's 2023, and oftentimes the casting of a transgender actor or actress is as much an effort to champion inclusion than it is to find the right person to play the part. In a story like Hellraiser, however, which is all about sexuality, gender, and the boundaries of societal understanding of the same, Clayton is a pitch-perfect update on a character who was never supposed to be so explicitly masculine in the first place. The Hellbound Heart described The Priest as masculine in features but feminine in voice, a "clear ambiguity" that was, in and of itself, part of the point. While Clayton was given an impossible task in recreating a horror icon, she did just about as good a job as possible in creating a new, updated face of a potentially updated franchise.
The second area where Hellraiser excelled is in its creation of the new Cenobites. Updating classic characters is always hard, and it's especially hard when recreating the gritty and obscene demons that each became pop culture icons. To do so in a completely different, yet somehow delightfully beautiful, way seems impossible, and yet director David Bruckner managed to create shiny new monsters to haunt our dreams. Much like in the first film, the new "Pinhead" isn't revealed until late into the film, its harbingers appearing first to tease the audience with the long-awaited reveal of the new leader. Each monster is crafted out of our nightmares, dark and dangerous with more than a hint of sexuality at the edges to bedevil the audience. By the time Clayton's Priest is finally shown on-screen, we are primed and ready for the new face of the franchise.
I stand by some of my previous critiques, however. I find myself caring very little about the characters at the heart of the story. In the original film, Kirsty is an innocent, someone who is extremely undeserving of the fate that seems to await her. In this film, Riley (Odessa A'zion) is a junkie who has alienated all of her family. Her boyfriend Trevor (Drew Starkey) is a thief. We do still have the Frank character in Voight (the delightful Goran Visnjic), and he is meant to serve as the foil to our main "heroes," but they are just as broken and fundamentally flawed, if a little less cruel, than the antagonist. While there is certainly something to be said about Riley's character being a flawed sort of antihero, as well as the argument that a junkie is not deserving of eternal torment at the hands of demons, I also wouldn't have shed too many tears had she bit the dust along with many of her compatriots.
By and large, however, I recognize that I am not exactly the intended audience for this film. Rather than cater almost exclusively to fans of the original, which is a common tactic employed during the production of a reboot, Hellraiser 2022 is an attempt to reach out to newer audiences who may be just starting to get into horror. This does cut down some on the enjoyment for fans of the previous films, but we would all be remiss to forget how important it is to draw in new fans to the genre when so much of the more recent releases are rehashes of old stories that were stale decades ago. Hellraiser is a dark and twisted story that is invigorated by new technology and some excellent CGI, though the argument could also be made that CGI detracts a bit from the impact of the effects of the original film.
If you're looking for something explicitly new, you'll be left wanting by the new retelling of the Hellraiser story. If you're looking for an updated movie that doesn't quite hold the same impact as the original, there's a lot to love here. The length of the film, at roughly two hours, is also a bit of a turnoff. But it's watchable at worst and has some great surprises along the way, and you can't ask for a whole lot more than that for a movie that seemed impossible to remake. It is far from holding the impact of the original, but it didn't have a snowball's chance in the Hell Dimension of that anyway. It's worth a watch for old and new fans alike.
Who this movie is for: Hellraiser fans, Modern/teen horror lovers, Puzzle enthusiasts
Bottom line: An updated reimagining of a cult classic, for good or ill. There are some truly bright spots that really capture the heart of what Clive Barker intended from the very beginning, and the updated Priest is a sight to behold. The Cenobites are as scary as ever, the effects (at least the practical ones) are fantastic and the acting is possibly the best in the series. All that said, this one is an attempt to draw in the younger crowd, which doesn't allow for Hellraiser to be all the Hellraiser that it needs to be. Modern times don't allow for the shock that the original carried, but that's unavoidable. If you enjoyed the original film and don't mind a little bit of a bastardization of its impact, this one will be right up your alley.