Hellbender is a new horror movie that is a family affair from the filmmaking team of John Adams, Toby Poser and their daughters Zelda and Lulu. The family actually did most of the production work on this low-budget film alongside appearing in the film themselves, which is probably the most impressive thing about it. The film was shot in the filmmakers’ home compound up in the Catskills.
Zelda plays a teenage girl, Izzy, who lives in well the Catskills Mountains with her overprotective mother. She writes songs with her mother, but the outside world never hears them sing. She becomes increasingly interested in the outside world, but is informed she has an “illness” that could make her a danger to others. She ends up eating a worm after meeting some other young people, and things start to go strange for Izzy after that as she realizes more about her own powers.
I respect the intent and enthusiasm of the Adams family, which jumps off the screen. It feels like a micro-budget version of Carrie but with a folk horror twist. The supernatural elements are the most interesting bit, but the film gets bogged down by the mother/daughter dynamic. I thought the special effects were fairly effective given the budget, and some of the cinematography and sound design is quite striking.
Hellbender ends up feeling more like a home movie than a completely satisfying film. The sequences of songs that the mother/daughter duo perform try to tie the loose narrative together. However, it comes out being too ill-disciplined and unfocused to force me to invest in the story—therefore I’ll give it an A for effort and a C- for execution. The Adams family are certainly unique filmmakers and ones to watch, and I’m sure their future projects will be more no doubt better.
Hellbender is on Shudder as one of its original films, so if you have access to Shudder you may want to give it a watch there before you buy the DVD. It’s only 80 minutes long. The film has only been issued on DVD (not Blu-Ray—this is same for the US, too), and the DVD has a string of featurettes and music videos as extras.
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