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Diablo Joe Reviews Hellbender

Posted in Diablo Joe Reviews by Neal at 15:26, Feb 24 2022

review by Diablo Joe

Watch "Hellbender" now on Shudder!


2019’s “The Deeper You Dig” was a thrilling, if occasionally imperfect, horror offering from the artistic family collective of John Adams, Zelda Adams, & Toby Poser. Known communally by the apropos and somewhat ironic “Adams Family” moniker, this trio of filmmakers has created a unique, ambitious, and intelligent body of work. They write, direct, act, and perform numerous other jobs on all of their movies. Each film has proved more adept and interesting than the last, and their newest work, the folk horror picture “Hellbender,” streaming on Amazon Shudder, is a fine addition to that canon.

“Hellbender” is centered around the relationship between the eponymously named Mother (Poser) and teenage daughter Izzy (Zelda Adams), a secluded pair living in a house in the woods. Mother ventures into town occasionally for modern supplies, but otherwise, the two live off the land. Subsisting on a spare diet of twigs, barks, leaves, and other flora that would make naturist Euell Gibbons crave a cheeseburger, the two keep to themselves as Izzy has an illness that prevents her from interacting with others. Or so Mother insists. But, as Izzy has matured, her desire to explore the greater world has grown along with her. Chance encounters with a hiker (John Adams), and a rebellious young girl (Zelda’s sibling, LuLu) and her friends result in an awakening of more profound knowledge and powers in Izzy. As Mother coaches her child in the history and lore of their people, she must come to grip with a growing threat to her own existence.

The genre of “folk horror” has been a hot one lately. With an exhaustive and scholarly documentary and many examples, old and new, hitting the various streaming services, audiences have had many films from which to choose. Unfortunately, some of these have been mere carpetbaggers in a sense, movies with the trappings—woodlands, ritual, etc.—without a true and deeper understanding of the milieu. However, this is something that ”Hellbender” gets very, very right. The film examines the connection between birth and destruction in nature, codifying it as the core of the relationship between Mother and Izzy revealed as the film progresses. It is the key to everything Mother teaches and every danger Izzy poses.

“Hellbender” is very much a film about the relationship of a mother and daughter, from conception to the eventual need to abdicate the matronly role. Hindsight reveals clues here and there in the first act of the picture. Smartly, it doesn’t pound its audience over the head with analogies. This thematic progression is subtle, even as the film ventures into more graphic and ever mind-expanding territory.

The real-life relationship between Poser and daughter Adams informs and deepens both actors' already solid performances. The women share moments that cannot be attributed to acting skill alone, and it gives a spiritual gravitas to their many scenes together that only blesses the film with more meaning. “Hellbender” is deeply woman-centric. And while it effortlessly passes the Bechtel Test (its male characters, if pivotal to the story, are few and far between), it never is about this pairs’ relationship with the male sex. Rather, they, and their relationship, seem to exist much outside of the rest of the world altogether.

With each film that the Adamses gift us with, we see, more and more, a deftness and assuredness that the team is developing as creatives. Some might wish them the chance to work within a higher budget and the resources that studio affiliations might bring. However, one could argue that their rarified output, untainted by the influence of others, is what allows their work such an original vision.

“Hellbender” digs deep into a wellspring of maternal matters and gives birth to utterly unique folk horror mythos.

This devil of a reviewer gives “Hellbender” 4 out of 5 imps

Hellbender cast and crew interview

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