'Hellraiser': A Brutal, Surprisingly Decent Reboot
One of the biggest struggles that horror remakes and reboots tend to have is how to adapt the original film to the modern era. With advances in technology, changing cultural attitudes, and the desire to not just make a copy and paste of the original, there's quite a bit for the filmmakers to consider. These changes can make or break a remake, as some films might pander a bit too much to modern audiences, and lose sight of the actual film in the process. Thankfully, Hellraiser is not one of those films. It is more of a re-imagining than a straight-up remake, but it retains the spirit of the original film quite well. On top of that, the adjustments to the modern era feel natural, and the film as a whole is a rather solid expansion on the world and lore that writer/director Clive Barker created with his original film.
Much like the original, the film focuses on a young woman dealing with evil forces emanating from a mysterious puzzle box. The box, when solved, releases a blade that cuts the person who solved it, and opens a portal to Hell. In Hellraiser 2022, the box falls into the hands of Riley (played by Odessa A'zion), a young woman who struggles with addiction. Unaware of the box's powers, she solves it, but narrowly misses being cut by the blade. This summons a group of humanoid creatures known as Cenobites, who demand that she passes the box on to someone else. When her brother Matt (played by Brandon Flynn) finds the box and accidentally cuts his hand on it, it causes him to disappear, thus setting off a chain of events that forces Riley to confront the Cenobites, and to unlock the mysteries of the puzzle box in the process.
One of my issues with the original film is that it is a bit messy in terms of its overall narrative, and glosses over specific plot details. However, the reboot takes what Clive Barker established in the original, and expands on it quite nicely. It builds off the lore of the franchise, and takes it in a new, exciting direction. It helps that the film is in good hands with director David Bruckner. This is the first film of his that I've seen, but he definitely feels like a great fit for the material. He allows the story to breathe and takes his time in letting it unfold, and pulls off its brutal, sadistic violence wonderfully. He more or less lets the film speak for itself, which is highly effective, but I kind of wish that I felt something a little more individualistic in his direction. There are small moments where we do get this, but they are few and far between. I'm not saying that Bruckner's direction isn't good, but I kind of wish there was a little more to it at certain points.
Of course, a lot of credit is due to the film's script, which manages to be rather detailed without feeling too expository or overwrought. The script, from Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski, especially does a good job of fleshing out the puzzle box element, and utilizes the Cenobites quite effectively. I appreciate how it dives further into the specifics of the box, as it gives some much needed detail to the world of the film. The overall premise isn't anything too complex, but it is strengthened by the specific details that come from both Barker's original film (as well as his novella The Hellbound Heart) and Collins and Piotrowski's new contributions. As stated above, the film takes its time, which allows the narrative to be more easily digestible. The original film breezes through everything so quickly that some elements get lost in the mix, so its nice to see that the reboot is willing to flesh things out a little more. I will say, however, that the characters are perhaps a tad underwritten, and that the film's structure could have been a bit stronger, but I was pleasantly surprised by how well the script works here.
One of the most iconic aspects of the Hellraiser franchise is the character of Pinhead, the leader of the Cenobites. He is the primary antagonist across the entire franchise, and is one of the most iconic horror characters of the past several decades. While Doug Bradley famously portrayed him across most of the series, the role has been played by other actors in the past few installments. In this version, Pinhead is referred to as The Priest, which is more in line with how the character was written in Barker's original novella, and is portrayed by Jamie Clayton. Clayton embraces the androgyny of the character, and makes the character her own while still honoring Barker's original vision of the character. She is so locked into the character, and is rather chilling whenever she appears on screen. There is a sense of stoicism that comes with the character, and Clayton nails this while still making the character genuinely unsettling. I'd argue that she is the MVP of the whole film, as she has such an incredible screen presence, and breathes new life into such an iconic character.
The rest of the cast is quite good as well, notably Odessa A'zion who plays the lead. Her character, Riley, isn't the most well-developed, but she gets into the more emotional aspects of the character quite well, and uses certain elements (like the character's addiction) in an honest and effective way. In the hands of another actor, this role could have been forgettable, but A'zion brings the right amount of pathos to it, and is easily a stand-out here. The film also has a decent supporting cast, with veteran actors Hiam Abbass and Goran Visnjic doing reliably good work, and the actors that play the Cenobites all giving wonderfully frightening performances.
Of course, one of the best aspects of the original Hellraiser is the practical effects and make-up used in the film, especially when it comes to the Cenobites. The reboot also has great effects, and uses both practical effects and CGI rather well. The creature design for the Cenobites is especially great, as it is true to the source material, while also making some adjustments to make the characters stand out a little more. I was also impressed with how realistic the more brutal violence was, as these sequences made me squirm quite a few times throughout the film. I was stunned by how visceral some of these moments were, but they are as impressive as they are disturbing.
I did feel that the camerawork is more of a mixed bag, however, as some scenes are so dimly lit that it can be hard to see what is happening at times. There has been a trend lately of various films and TV shows using minimal lighting and having a darker aesthetic, and more often than not, it just makes the imagery look muddy or quite bland. Hellraiser is not immune to this, as certain scenes lack the impact they could have had due to the dim lighting. That being said, the way the camera moves and lingers is quite effective, and certain shots do look pretty good for the most part. The production design is also to thank for this, as the film alternates between more grimier environments to more pristine ones, and allows for the more fantastical environments to stand out significantly.
As far as horror reboots and remakes go, Hellraiser stands up to the original quite well. While it may not dig as much into the sadomasochism at the core of Clive Barker's original work, it does manage to be a great expansion on the world that he created, and is rather striking and revitalizes the franchise in a major way. It does make some questionable creative choices, but as a whole, this is a rather solid re-imagining of a horror classic. So much of it works due to Bruckner's direction, and the script, but the real star of the show is easily Jamie Clayton as The Priest. I'm hoping that we get another installment in the franchise, if for no other reason than for her to reprise this role. I would argue that the original is still a tad better, mainly because it is directly from Clive Barker and is more in-line with his original vision, but I certainly feel that Hellraiser 2022 is a worthy reboot, and honors the original film, as well as Barker's novella, in a mostly satisfying way.