Horror has always been a safe haven for indie filmmakers. A gathering of like-minded people has a special power. This is a hellbender Movie Review.
Horror has always been a safe haven for indie filmmakers. There’s something magical about a group of like-minded individuals venturing into the woods and emerging with a work of art. It’s sometimes “The Evil Dead” or “The Last House on the Left.
” These films are acts of defiance, reclaiming the genre from a studio system that has frequently misunderstood it. The Adams family has been one of the most fascinating horror DIY collectives in recent years (not Morticia and Gomez).
The Adams clan, an upstate New York family who writes, directs, stars, and does just about everything else in their films, made a name for themselves with “The Deeper You Dig,” a surreal, must-see film that’s now available on Shudder.
They returned to festivals in 2021 with “Hellbender,” which is now available on Netflix and continues their upward trajectory. These people make daring, self-assured genre films, and they’re only getting better.
One of the reasons is that they are improving their performance. Zelda Adams is fantastic as Izzy, a young woman raised away from civilization in “Hellbender.” Mother, played by Zelda’s mother and co-writer/co-director Toby Poser, has informed Izzy that she is ill—as they will in the horror genre for years to come, isolation and illness could reflect pandemic themes if you so choose.
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She never lets Izzy leave their tree-shaded mountain home on her own to go into town for supplies. Of course, Izzy is sixteen, and she is growing tired of being alone. She enjoys performing in a badass punk band with her mother, but she wishes to spread her wings.
A prologue involving a witch who is extremely difficult to kill and other occult imagery make it clear that there is more going on here than a protective mother.
In its religion-tinged unpacking of a mother/daughter dynamic, the first half of “Hellbender” echoes “Carrie,” but one of the things I love about the Adams family is how they veer left just when you think you know where they’re going.
“Hellbender” feels very familiar at first—another story in which female adolescence and something malevolent collides—but the Adams clan (which also includes Toby’s husband John and their other daughter Lulu, who co-star) embraces their darker, punk rock side.
“Hellbender,” like “The Deeper You Dig,” improves as it becomes more surreal, but Zelda’s grounded, coming-of-age performance provides a nice balance to the out-there imagery.
I enjoy the films she makes with her family, but I’d also like to see what she can do with another director. She has range and potential.
So many DIY filmmakers are like pastiche artists, assembling sequences and scripts from their favorite horror films. What distinguishes the Adams family’s work is the sense that, while they understand their genre, they never simply imitate their predecessors.
They’ve gone into the woods and returned with something that not only fits in with the legacy of “witch horror,” but is also a film that only John, Toby, Lulu, and especially Zelda could have made. That’s how it’s done. I hope they return to the woods soon.