“Hellbender” – Movie Review

Not to be confused with the absurd 2012 horror-comedy Hellbenders, Shudder’s latest original movie Hellbender is a family affair in every sense of the word.  Written, directed, shot, and starring the Adams family (no not Gomez and Morticia), this movie manages to be subtle and dramatic, but also incredibly creepy and surreal.

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L to R: John Adams, Zelda Adams, and Toby Poser are all credited as co-directors, co-writers, and the three stars of the movie!

Sheltered Existence
After a legitimately badass opening scene taking place many years in the past, we meet our protagonist Izzy (Zelda Adams) and her mother (played by Zelda’s real life mom Toby Poser).  Izzy is homeschool and plays some pretty killer music with her mom in a band, although they never have an audience and she’s never left the plot of forested land they own.

Eager to socialize, she befriends another teenager Amber (played by her sister Lulu Adams), but after a day by the pool with friends, something strange happens and Izzy realizes she’s not quite like the other kids her age.  This sends her down a path of self-discovery with incredibly dark and disturbing revelations.

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Typically a pool party shouldn’t end with this much blood…

Embracing the Beast
Like most teens her age, Izzy struggles with finding her identity and fitting in.  But upon a simple inciting incident of eating a worm during a game with friends, something dark and desolate is awakened from inside her.  It’s in this plotline that the movie goes from family drama about a sheltered teenager to full blown demonic horror.

We learn that her mother has been keeping quite a few things from her about her lineage.  And as Izzy goes down the rabbit hole, the film itself goes through a transformation into surrealist territory.  Working with such a low budget is a huge challenge for indie filmmakers, but sometimes it can be a vehicle for creativity and that’s very much what Hellbender does.

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Being visually interesting is a great way to make the most of a small budget.

Utilizing surreal and bizarre visuals and dream sequences, the movie accurately captures the unusual themes and ideas that it conveys.  And simultaneously demonstrates that a movie with just a few actors mostly set in the same place can still be beautifully shot and creatively designed.

A Family Affair
Filmmaking is such a collaborative effort and that’s only exemplified by the genuinely fascinating fact of how this movie was made.  The opening titles of the movie simply credit the “Adams Family” with directing and that’s very much an apt way to put it.

Zelda Adams may be young, but she gives a layered and fascinating performance which is evidence that she was extremely comfortable with her character and the story.  And a large part of that was the collaborative nature of the production.  Each member of the family plays a role both in front of and behind the screen, and the result is an amazing indie horror film, whose passion you just feel oozing off the screen.

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The fact that the two leads are actually mother and daughter gives an incredibly natural and comfortable on screen chemistry.

And not just that, the movie manages to be unsettling in a quiet, slow burn sort of way.  It’s not the type of horror film that relies on overt jump scares.  Rather, it’s one that makes you think about it’s disturbing themes about destiny and fate long after it’s over!

What did you think of Hellbender?  Let us know in the comments!

Hellbender is streaming exclusively on Shudder!

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