Hellraiser (2022) REVIEW – Not Hellacious Enough

Great gore doesn’t make up for lack of sex and ideas.

Hellraiser reboot
Hellraiser reboot

It’s always unfair to compare new movies to their predecessors, but in the case of 2022’s Hellraiser reboot, the most meaningful comparison to 1987’s film of the same name simply compounds on an issue that arises from this new version itself: lack of sex. The film, loosely based on Clive Barker’s The Hellbound Heart, is broadly about demons who are hedonistic sensual explorers, called forth when someone solves a magical puzzle box. Any story about hedonist sensual explorers needs to be about sensuality and desire at some level.

Sadly, while the main story (after a brief prologue) of this new Hellraiser opens on a couple in the throes of passion, it quickly abandons any sexuality to become a fairly standard “you messed with something you shouldn’t have messed with” horror movie.

The plot follows Riley (Odessa A’zion) as she and her not quite boyfriend Trevor (Drew Starkey) discover the puzzle box and accidentally call forth the demonic Cenobites who then demand sacrifice. Their first victim is Riley’s brother leading her, Trevor, and some other friends to begin an investigation into the puzzle box.

It’s a plot structure we’ve seen many times before in horror and there’s nothing wrong with that when it works. And it overwhelmingly does work in Hellraiser (2022), but there’s a sense that something has been lost by fully abandoning the importance of desire in the story. Both in terms of the visual pleasure of a movie at least nominally about hedonism not including sex, but also thematically, especially in the shadow of the 1987 film where the entire plot hinges on socially forbidden sexual desire.

That sense of loss about sexuality in the movie then becomes even more of an issue as it seems the film has shifted the original story’s thematic interest from sex to drugs. That shift in focus would be fine, there’s certainly destructive pleasure to be found in drugs, but Hellraiser (2022) never really connects the dots between drug use and the desire to explore the puzzle box. Instead it offers scene after scene of Riley, her brother, and his boyfriend yelling about her past drug use in a way that adds nothing intellectually, emotionally, or narratively interesting to the movie.

Despite all Hellraiser (2022)’s narrative missteps, it absolutely delivers on the horror sequences. Jamie Clayton’s much discussed new iteration of the lead Cenobite, credited here as “The Priest” and known by fans as “Pinhead,” looks incredible and her measured performance is likely the sexiest thing in the movie. The other Cenobites also look fantastic, and the horrors that they subject their victims to are gorgeously realized pieces of macabre performance art. Even better is that the film knows this is where its strength lies and offers significant screen time to the Cenobites and their tortures.

But as wonderful as these scenes are, great scenes do not make a great film, and Hellraiser (2022) is too bogged down by unnecessary interpersonal drama between its human characters and is held back by its plot. It also doesn’t help that much of the film offers the same muddled gray cinematography that’s become the standard for prestige TV.

Hellraiser isn’t bad by any means, it offers a standard and mostly well done horror movie plot, amazing creature designs, and very satisfying gore sequences, but it fails to live up to its potential. And that failure to even try to engage with what makes this story so fundamentally compelling to many readers and viewers may be more damning than a swing and a miss could have ever been.

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Hellraiser reboot
Hellraiser (2022) offers amazing creature design and gore but fails to offer anything intellectually or sensually interesting in a movie ostensibly about hedonist demons.