TIFF 2012: HELLBENDERS Review

by     Posted 1 year, 221 days ago

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Hellbenders teaches a valuable lesson: even with a neat premise and a strong cast of a character actors, a film can get real old, real fast.  Writer-director JT Petty wants to coast on the hook of a bunch of hellbound, sinful exorcists charged with doing the church’s dirty work, but he has no idea how to build on it.  The film becomes an endless loop of people in cleric’s collars doing raunchy stuff.  Petty’s motto seems to be, “When in doubt, give Clancy Brown something filthy to say.”  The cast is out of balance so there never feels like a team dynamic, and even when the story raises the stakes, the characters don’t feel much of an impetus to save the world.  Hellbenders may trip over the occasional humorous moment, but it’s mostly a constant reminder of wasted potential.  To rub salt in the wound, the movie is in crappy 3D.

Angus (Brown), Lawrence (Clifton Collins Jr.), Elizabeth (Robyn Rikoon), and other men of God (played by Dan Fogler, Macon Blair, and Andre Royo) are members of  the Hellbound Saints of Brooklyn Parish.  Although they come from different Christian denominations, they all handle the Church’s dirty work of performing exorcisms.  They sin constantly so that if worse comes to worst, they can become possessed, kill themselves, and drag the demon with them straight to hell.  When the gang encounters the god-killer Surtr, they find themselves woefully outmatched, and to add insult to apocalypse, they’re about to be shut down by a church bureaucrat.

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Even when matters spiral completely out of control, the gang never seems particularly concerned with their duty as the last hope for saving the planet.  They’re not afraid or reluctant.  They just seem disinterested, which makes us wonder why we should even care about their situation.  And because Petty can’t think of a creative way to set the table for the coming apocalypse, he just adds zombies.  The movie also carries a bit of a misogynistic streak as the vessel for Surtr is a woman, and the gateway to hell is a vagina.  Hellbenders takes its most creative aspect, the rebel priests, and then lets the premise limp along because Petty has no idea how to use it well.

The notion of a bunch of ragtag, demon-hunting priests seems like a promising concept, but it quickly devolves into a bunch of characters who would be, at best, an occasionally amusing 5th or 6th supporting character in another comedy.  The script relies far too heavily on making the characters curse, but they’re not even good curse words.  Angus occasionally gets in a good insult string, but usually he just relies on saying “cocksucker” a lot.  It’s a missed opportunity for some good, old-fashioned blasphemy, which would make sense since taking the Lord’s name in vain would help with the damnation they’re aiming for.

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Once you get past the priests-behaving-badly stuff, Hellbenders is about as captivating as a dreary sermon.  Flat swearing, weak jokes, and buckets of blood add up to a dull movie, and a waste of a great cast that can do so much better when they’re given characters who do more than simply strive to indulge in frat-party-level sins.  The movie is one missed opportunity after another, and a constant letdown the mirrors the lack of energy from the cast and the filmmaking, which has some really horrible special effects near the end.  A priest shouting “The power of Christ compels you,” isn’t more compelling just because he says “motherfucker” at the end.

Rating: D

For all of our TIFF 2012 coverage, click here.  Here are links to all of my TIFF 2012 reviews:




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