The Movie Waffler New Release Review [Shudder] - HELLBENDER | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [Shudder] - HELLBENDER

hellbender review
A teenager discovers her mother has been lying to her about her true nature.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Toby Poser, John Adams, Zelda Adams

Starring: Zelda Adams, Toby Poser, Lulu Adams, John Adams

hellbender poster

The Adams family is back on our screens. No, not Morticia and her brood, but the filmmaking collective of patriarch John Adams, matriarch Toby Poser and their daughters Zelda Adams and Lulu Adams. They've been working in low budget regional filmmaking for some years now, but recently found a wider audience with last year's The Deeper You Dig, which picked up streaming distribution. They've followed that up with their slickest production to date, Hellbender.

hellbender review

The movie's title refers initially to H6llb6nd6er, the mother/daughter rock duo of 16-year-old Izzy (Zelda Adams) and her mom (Poser), who don KISS style make-up and rock out in the basement of their secluded home in the mountains of upstate New York. Izzy hasn't left the surrounds of her home since she was a child, as she suffers from a rare compromised immunity syndrome. Or at least that's what her mom has been telling her all these years.

When Izzy ventures further away from home than usual she comes across a teenage neighbour, Amber (Lulu Adams), and despite hanging out with her in close proximity, doesn't suffer any negative side effects from human contact. Confronting her mom, Izzy learns the truth of her real condition, which is connected to the flashback of an attempted witch-hanging that opens the film.

hellbender review

Like The Deeper You Dig, Hellbender boasts production values way above its relatively miniscule budget. The money made on their previous film seems to have been invested by the Adams in the special effects department. While some of the CG effects are still a little hokey, they have the sense to cut away from such moments quickly. Other effects are genuinely impressive regardless of budget, particularly the psychedelic montages that present a subjective view of Izzy's confused mind.

What it also has in common with The Deeper You Dig is a sustained buildup of atmosphere in its first two acts, only to be let down by a messy final act. Thanks largely to an impressive performance by Zelda Adams, whose lack of professionalism is perhaps a strength in conveying her character's wide-eyed innocence, we're fully onboard with Izzy's journey of self-discovery.

hellbender review

Once the film plays its hand and the reveal of Izzy's true nature is made however, the film becomes a lot less interesting. The fact that her mother is fully behind her means there's a notable absence of conflict. Think of Carrie if young Carrie White's mother was fully supportive and sympathetic to her daughter's supernatural abilities rather than viewing them as the work of the devil. What little threat there is from the outside world just isn't enough for us to fear for Izzy, while a late character turn never quite convinces.

 is on Shudder from February 24th.

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