Dir. David Bruckner (2022)
An addict discovers the Lament Configuration when robbing a storage locker. After her brother goes missing, she is willing to go through Hell to get him back.
CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
Clive Barker was my first introduction to queer horror, his books an exploration of sexuality in an unflinching, grimy way that felt dirty and unsafe without crossing the border into exploitation. Hellraiser, the movie adaptation of Barker's story The Hellbound Heart, felt the same. It was transgressive, boundary-pushing, and dangerous, a BDSM-infused story that swung for the fences even though it knew it could very well strike out. As I mentioned in my earlier review for the groundbreaking original, the movie itself wasn't that great: it was a bit too convoluted while also having a plot that felt strung together in order to display the glory that was Pinhead and the Cenobites. However, those Cenobites were terrifying, and it established a world that we knew we wanted to learn more about.
Hulu's Hellraiser reboot, however, missed almost all of that. Gone is the danger and the psychosexual horror, instead replacing Barker's vision of the horrors of desire and sensation with a morality tale about getting what you deserve and what you're willing to sacrifice to get what you want. There were certainly shades of that in the original, but that wasn't what made it scary. Doug Bradley's phenomenal interpretation of the head Cenobite, along with the terrifying hell-formed creatures that accompanied him, were what stuck the most in the minds of viewers. This version, however, has replaced these practical monsters with CGI-laden abominations, removing a lot of what made the original Hellraiser so startlingly effective.
2022's Hellraiser is modern and bloody, to be sure, and the series itself is certainly due for a competent reboot, but the movie felt more like a standard slasher movie where Hellraiser was jammed in for the audience. There are some great technical achievements, and the mind-bending transformation of buildings, rooms, and even the back of a van was fantastic. The characters were unlikeable, not a cardinal sin in a film about bad people getting their comeuppance, but there was hardly enough character development to earn the audience's sympathy for them. There's not a whole lot of the plot that is explained, becoming more like a sequel that doesn't seek to explain the backstory of what we're seeing on-screen than it does an actual reboot. And therein lies the primary problem with this film.
Hellraiser feels more like a standard teen horror movie: it's too slick, focusing on dark cinematography and millennial protagonists than it does on the grit and grime of the original. The digital effects used, while shiny and pretty, took away from the terrifying realness of the Cenobites. Today, with the LGBT community more accepted than ever, addiction viewed as a disease without a choice, and even some of the most taboo discussions becoming commonplace in comparison to earlier eras, Hellraiser doesn't doesn't contain the shocking revelation that it once did.
Are we left to believe that it simply isn't possible to shock anymore, or that this one just wasn't put together right? Is it still possible for screenwriters and directors to put together the Lament Configuration that is the Hellraiser franchise? Jamie Clayton, the current iteration of Pinhead, did as good as job as possible, I believe, but she lacks a lot of the menace that Bradley had in spades. Perhaps this is a problem of writing more than acting: she certainly seems to fit the part, and her androgynous femininity lent a certain air of allure to the carnal pleasures on offer. But at the end of the day, scares are what they're after, and this one falls shockingly short.
Who this movie is for: Ardent fans of the original, Modern teen horror fans, BDSM aficionados
Bottom line: The best word that I can think to describe the new Hellraiser is sanitized. This is exactly what it can't be. The whole appeal of the franchise is its terrifying otherness, a perfect representation of Barker's horror aesthetic. With heaps of CGI and a Blumhouse teen slasher vibe, this one was more miss than hit. Jamie Clayton was decent as a Bradley replacement, but her efforts were largely wasted on a movie that omits
what made the original films so effective.