Say what you will about Marc Fratto’s Hell Fire, but one thing is evident: this is the indie horror film that you wish most indie horror films were. Right from the beginning we are treated to the promise that this isn’t another watered down “6 teenagers get more than they bargained for when” straight to video stepping stone for a director wanting to cut his teeth on the genre. The first scene shows us two essential elements that contribute the overall success of Hell Fire: good writing and good acting. Two things that are usually absent from faire of the same budget.
The movie immediately feels like a mashup up some of indie and exploitation cinema’s finest offerings. The story, which follows a group of hapless hookers out to make a score that could change all of their lives has the ability to shift gears with a speed and ease that doesn’t disturb its tone. It can be a botched heist film, a claustrophobic lifeboat tribute and a classy supernatural action picture from scene-to-scene, all retaining a witty arthouse dialogue driven feel that doesn’t come across as pompous or self-important. In all actuality, Hell Fire does exactly what I want a movie of its ilk to do, it entertains and it does so at times, effortlessly. A trait that is easily exemplified when our troop of working girls find out that their hostage, is non other than the spawn of Satan himself; a smooth talking, manipulative southerner with limited powers, but boundless ambitions to rule the earth side-by-side with his father.
Needless to say, prostitutes under pressure don’t mix well with the Prince of Darkness and things start to go south quickly. When we get our horror, it is here and it is plenty. We get our gore, we get our violence and we aren’t treated to the PG13 brand we’ve come to settle for. THIS is the lack of studio influence that truly makes an indie film an event experience when its done right. It can push the envelope, break taboos and do it with an appreciated zest that big Hollywood rarely takes a chance on anymore. It does all of this in such a gleeful fashion that you start to forgive it some it technical trespasses that earlier in its running time undoubtedly held it back.
Hell Fire is not exactly a pretty, polished little film. It is rough around the way a lot of lesser indie films are. The cinematography here is nice, but the technical execution leaves a lot to be desired. The film can appear oversaturated and gritty in all the wrong places. Again, more than forgivable when contrasted with all of its strengths. Not so unforgiveable is the sometimes incomprehensible dialogue muddied by less than adequate sound. If there is one caveat, and its really sad that it has to be a technical one, it is that the audio quality is so bad, muffled and at times inaudible near the beginning of the film that it will gain many detractors before the movie nears its potential to really impress.
Audio aside, Hell Fire boasts a nice well rounded cast that wisely focuses on the talents of the film’s lead, J. Scott Green. Green shows off a McConaughy style swagger that elevates already powerful dialogue driven diatribes to Bond villain craziness, all with a smug smile that adds just the right amount of creepy to the ton of slimy, swarmy charm he already brings to the character. This is not to say that his peers are all peripheral. All of the actresses play nicely off of Green and sell their roles equally well. These actors all know exactly what to do with their lines, which not only makes their characters more interesting, but the whole situation more maniacal fun when they each reach their own breaking points, all-in-all making Hell Fire an enjoyable, horror-action filled romp that should definitely be sought out. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.