The original Hellraiser is, at times, a far more complex film that often given credit for. The film, while still rough around the edges, is a jarring examination of the personal hells we’ll create for ourself in our pursuit of love, lust and sensation. It is arguably more about the human cast than it is their demonic counterparts the cenobites, or even the box that ties all of these threads together. It is the kind of horror that modern “elevated horror” struggles to achieve. It WASN’T a ragtag group of edgy twenty-somethings running from “monsters” on a lonesome stretch of road. THAT is another movie, one that we’ve already seen plenty of.
THAT is probably the most disappointing quality of the 2022 Hulu reboot: the complexities of the original film are forfeited to bring us yet another paint-by-numbers slasher copycat where one-dimensional characters fight to find the one thing that will hold the threat at bay.
The film focuses on Riley (Odessa A’zion), a recovering addict who now relies on other vices to get by. She shares an apartment with an overbearing but good intentioned brother and his roommates. Her brother, of course, as reservations about her new relationship (one of many in the recent past) and after a rather intense confrontation, she relapses. Her boyfriend has other plans, which involve robbing the storage facility of a wealthy businessman.
The robbery results in the acquisition of the legendary puzzlebox, Lemarchand’s Lament and the movie quickly picks up its pace from there.
The look of the film itself holds no faults. It feels very cinematic and the direction complements that very well. Likewise the performances across the board are very solid as well. If blame can be laid anywhere on this latest installment (reboot) in the franchise it’s the script, a bizarre cherry-picking of Barker’s mythology, plot points from earlier films and a new set of rules that sometimes contradicts everything.
That script, while serviceable to move our pawns into place, doesn’t quite know what makes Hellraiser Hellraiser and that is unfortunate enough to throw the balance of the entire film off-kilter. You see, Hellraiser really isn’t about being chased by pain-weilding cenobites or wheeling and dealing with box-bearers for power or immunity… its about the unfathomable absence of satisfaction. Barker’s original vision held fast to the perversity that tainted reason, made men into monsters. Without that understanding its just monsters chasing men.
THAT unfortunately, is where Hulu’s Hellraiser fails. It borrows its template from any number of forgettable slashers and diminishes the true mirror-like introspection of the original to an afterthought. The cenobites chase Riley and her surviving roommates through the better part of the second act; roommates that, minus Riley’s brother, seem extremely paper thin. By the time we get to the real Hellraiser’s staples of obsession and double crossings, we have no real heroes to root for, instead just blindly watching the screen to see if they can manage to get anything else right before the film’s final moments. The effort, ultimately, just isn’t there. In the end, all of those fans who were so focused on Pinhead and Jamie Clayton’s performance just couldn’t be bothered with fighting the true villain… lazy and uninspired writing.