GORE IN THE STORE
Directed by John Adams, Zelda Adams & Toby Poser.
Starring Zelda Adams, Toby Poser, John Adams.
Horror, US, 86 minutes.
Streaming on Shudder 24th February
The surnames Adams and Poser appear multiple times all over the end credits for HELLBENDER. Because of their multi-tasking, from writing and directing to cinematography, editing, hair and make-up, special effects and no doubt the catering, results in an end credits crawl that seems to be over in less than a minute. In the unlikely event that Disney/Marvel would hand complete creative control over to the family unit for one of their darker, horror-tinged properties at least the wait for a post-credits sequence would be over in 90% of the usual time. Until that unlikely event we will just have to watch their own original and completely unique films and honestly, we shouldn’t have it any other way.
Following on from the impressive THE DEEPER YOU DIG; HELLBENDER represents an even further leap in quality from Adams Family Films. Kicking off with the hanging of a woman, presumed to be a witch, it literally takes off in a completely unexpected direction before taking us into the present day to examine an unusual mother and daughter relationship. Living remotely in the woods, Izzy is forced to stay at home while Mother makes trips into town for supplies. Told that she has an immune-deficient disease Izzy now yearns to make friends, very much against Mother’s wishes. Despite her mother’s fears Izzy stumbles into a tentative friendship with teenage Amber and after a drinking game Izzy undergoes a startling transformation and discovers the unusual truth about her family history.
With this simple and well-worn premise Posner, her daughter and husband have crafted, in the truest sense of the word, a fresh and compelling take that constantly surprises from its narrative choices, character work and personal touches that make it a completely singular film. The musical interludes that punctuate the story, performed by Mother and Izzy further reinforce the creative and familial bond not only between them as characters but as creative collaborators behind the camera as well. This bond helps double down on the theme of family and the thin line between love and independency underlying it with Posner and Adams delivering completely convincing performances. Whether it is in Posner’s worries about her daughters burgeoning confidence or Adams’s confidence in the discovery of her true nature, both women deliver convincing and naturalistic performances in a narrative that goes against the grain of the usual teen rebellion tropes we have all seen hundreds of times before.
It could be argued that working with a low-budget forces more focus onto such aspects as character and plot but there is such a high level of confidence on display here not only with those elements but visually as well that such constraints are easily and skilfully dealt with. Several scenes are strikingly shot; whether it is a hallucinatory vision atop a windswept mountain or something as seemingly simple as a face-to-face conversation framed in such a simple yet striking manner that it is difficult to not be impressed by the confidence and ambition of this filmmaking family. The films enticing and often creepy mythology further enforces the original vision and imagination on offer here.
The cinematic equivalent of a 90’s grunge album from its title, which also goes by H6LLB6ND6R, to its soundtrack and its lyrically visual storytelling, this is one of the most exciting and impressive low-budget horror films in some time by one of the most interesting collaborative units around. The prospect of them working with a Hollywood budget is enticing but maybe not as stimulating as what they can come up with themselves. Their original voice is like nothing else around at the moment and the opportunity to watch them develop their own vision without interference or constraint even further from here is one of the genres most exciting prospects in some time.