Hellraiser: Reboot is a real pain to watch

The new Hellraiser reboot has some fun ideas, but the characters are so dumb that they’re not the only ones forced to suffer.

The fascinating, macabre exploration of the limits of pleasure and agony was included in the first Hellraiser. But the Clive Barker classic’s 2022 remake on Hulu is just awful. It mishandles the mythos of the series by taking the most superficial elements of the original plot and gnarling them into a bloated, uninspired modern horror plod.

In broad strokes, the film centers on a group of obnoxious 20-somethings who are running away from a supernatural evil while yelling nonstop at one another in an audible attempt to figure out what’s going on with them at any given time. They act like utter idiots, and it’s very difficult to support or identify with any of them when they’re constantly having a screeching temper tantrum or having a total emotional breakdown.

The history of the Cenobites, a race of horrifyingly disfigured creatures whose entire existence is dedicated to pushing the limits of feeling, frequently involving outrageously painful torture devices and rituals, serves as the connection to the original film. When a group of young people calls them using a complex puzzle box, they show up to distribute some sweet, sweet misery as a present from the hereafter because, to them, pain is pleasure.

Riley (Odessa A’zion), the leader of the organization of Gen Z-ers, is a struggling addict whose guardian brother Matt is her sole source of support (Brandon Flynn). Riley (Riley Starkey) hurries to her dubious lover Trevor (Drew Starkey) as the siblings fight, and he asks her to help him steal the aforementioned cosmic puzzle box. When the Cenobites are called, a dreadful ritual in which many people’s lives are sacrificed for the ultimate ascension of one soul into BDSM nirvana begins.

The movie’s main weakness is that practically all of the characters are douchey and stupid, treating one another rudely to the point where they can’t even say “I love you” without getting angry. Each conversation sounds like a group panic attack. The characters’ frantic conduct appears to have been intended to evoke a sense of frenzy and fear in the audience, but it ultimately just comes out as unpleasant.

One of the few redeeming qualities in the film is the human antagonist, a cursed (in more ways than one) billionaire named Voight (Goran Visnjic). When everything is made clear, his situation is actually rather intriguing and indicative of the extremes of contemporary excess. When Visnjic is present, he is equally captivating, thus it’s a shame he wasn’t used more. Another standout is his mansion, a huge set with switches, secret entrances, and a skylight that gives the movie one of its few memorable pictures.

But without the classic Cenobite character designs, Hellraiser as a franchise would be nothing, and this ends up being the 2022 version’s strongest point. For their modernized aesthetics, the painters, designers, and costumers deserve a lot of praise. Jamie Clayton’s Pinhead/The Priest is a commendable replacement for Doug Bradley’s iconic original Pinhead performance. Although Clayton isn’t nearly as terrifying, she has a magnetic quality that is in line with the Cenobite ethos. The Chatterer (Jason Liles), whose exposed chompers are the stuff of nightmares, is another standout.

As remarkable as this collection of freaks is, it’s unfortunate that it was shot in such a dull manner, with full-frame views galore making them somewhat less frightening and more absurd. This film suffers from The Night House director David Bruckner’s apparent concentration in the mythos and philosophical conundrums of the original rather than its cinematic strengths. The mystique, suspense, careful pace, and narrative precision that Barker achieved with a small portion of the money are what are lacking.

There is no requirement that a remake of Hellraiser adhere to every beat in the original. It’s quite OK that the scenario in this 2022 version is entirely different from what we saw in the original 1987 movie. But instead of concentrating on a soulless, confusing tale that, beyond all the chains and flayed body parts, doesn’t feel like Hellraiser at all, the film should have taken the key components of the original and told the new story in that spirit.

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