I recently had the privilege of watching Hellbender for the Fantasia International Film Festival, which is the sixth feature from Wonder Wheel Productions, the family-run production company founded by Poser and Adams and their children, Zelda and Lulu. The Adams family first screened at Fantasia with their award-winning The Deeper You Dig (read my review – HERE) in 2019 and I was a huge fan of it, leading me to have high hopes for this one as well.
Synopsis for Hellbender
In Hellbender, 16-year-old Izzy (Zelda Adams) suffers from a rare illness that has kept her isolated on a mountaintop with her mother (Toby Poser) her whole life. As Izzy begins to question her sickness, she pushes back against her confinement and secretly befriends Amber (Lulu Adams), another girl living on the mountain, but her newfound happiness is derailed after she eats a live worm as part of a juvenile game and finds an insatiable and violent hunger awakened within her. To understand the hunger, Izzy must learn the dark secrets of her family’s past and the ancient power in her bloodline.
As expected, I was not disappointed with Hellbender and if anything it went above and beyond my expectations. So much so, that I possibly liked it even more than The Deeper You Dig (the ruling on that is still up for discussion, though). In many ways, this film can be spoken of in the same breath as Raw, Ginger Snaps, and Carrie. The story of power and how that power can change someone. Hellbender, much like their first Fantasia Festival hit, is very family-oriented and the chemistry, connection, and emotionally-powered performances are what drives this film and make it as strong, relatable, and magical as it is. Along with this, I loved the buildup of the story; the background to why Izzy is the way she is, and all the madness that unfolds after she discovers her true calling. Top it all off with fantastic special effects and makeup, Hellbender is sure to be another award-winning and highly praised film.
As previously mentioned, the chemistry, connection, and performances are what make this film stand out and deliver quality material. Both Toby and Zelda have grown in many ways since The Deeper You Dig, and their performances and character growth in Hellbender prove this. Zelda seemed more confident, fierce, and flawless. I also loved that her sister, Lula Adams, joined this film. It wasn’t until after I watched the film that I realized she was another Adams, but it’s not surprising. Her character was charismatic, unique, and she gave an overall badass performance.
For me, there were three parts to Hellbender. The first half of the film feels like a bright, sunny day with warm tones and a cozy atmosphere that tells the story of a loving and special bond between mother and daughter who only need each other to survive and have a love for music and performing. The middle part is a bit cloudy and uncertain, but yet still calm (the calm before the storm) and that’s when you finally understand why the mother is so overbearing and slowly begin to learn of their dark secret and all that entails. The last half is a storm, bound to destroy anything and everything that it comes in contact with. It delivers dark tones and a nightmarish atmosphere that feels claustrophobic, chaotic, and out of control including the special relationship between the mother and daughter. All of this is shown with beautiful imagery, flawless transitions, and phenomenal special effects and makeup. The special effects really helped deliver the fear and intensity of what I think Hellbender was aiming for.
Hellbender delivers a nightmarish look at the dark side of magic and power and how dangerous it can be. The Adams family proves once again that they are phenomenal filmmakers, actors, and that creativity isn’t dead. Quality horror films will continue to be made as long as they’re around. That being said, loved everything about it and I can’t wait for more people to see it. Beyond the festival circuit, viewers will get it a chance when it drops on Shudder in early 2022.