FANTASIA FEST 2021: ‘Hellbender’ Terrifies with Ruthless, Bloody Adolescence

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Hellbender

In Hellbender a young girl named Izzy finds herself on the precipice of womanhood and, like so many teenage girls, finds herself at odds with her own desire to grow and the wants of her overly protective mother. Of course, this isn’t any normal story of growing up. Izzy and her mother live in total isolation, cloistered in the mountains as dedicated vegetarians that must forage off the land. Having been told by her mother that she has a rare disease and must be kept away from others, Izzy is content in her close relationship with her mother… at first.

The two are confidantes and express themselves in a two-piece rock band, writing haunting lyrics and spinning wild melodies. All they have is each other and each other is all they need, but Izzy yearns. Yearns for a bigger world, a bigger life, a bigger sense of self. These are perfectly natural inclinations in a young woman but in, Izzy’s case, this desire comes with a price. As Izzy unearths the dark secrets of her family and the truth about herself, her mother, and their life of solitude, her quest for independence takes a more sinister turn.

The macabre coming-of-age film is the creation of the Adams Family, consisting of John Adams and Zelda Adams with Toby Poser/Adams. Zelda Adams and Toby Adams also star in the film. The filmmaking family behind The Deeper You Dig returns with their distinct brand of disconcerting effects, haunting characters, and exciting use of sound and music.

There is a long history in pop culture of magical discovery, especially witchcraft, being used as a device to show a character’s coming of age. Hellbender indulges in this and many other tropes to drive home its complicated tale of maturity, personal power, and the burden of legacy. This type of story is nothing new, but it is rarely done with such merciless brutality as is shown in Hellbender. That’s what makes this interesting.

Rather intelligently, Hellbender unpacks Izzy’s maturing through two distinct lenses. The first is that the film examines Izzy on a personal level. Hellbender explores Izzy’s own discovery of herself, her power, her desires, and her relationship with the truths she learns about her mother. Secondly, Hellbender examines Izzy’s growth through the perspective of her mother and, by further extension, the world history of girls becoming women and youth eventually replacing age. All mothers must watch their child grow from the little girl under their protection, to a woman with a future that she will forge alone.

It’s an approach that fully encapsulates the journey of all women – notably, the cycle of the Goddess acknowledged in pagan traditions. The maiden matures into the mother. The mother eventually withers into the crone. Blood rituals in the film draw a clear line to women’s cycles and the blood that has defined womanhood since the beginning of time. Hellbender shows a great deal of intention and understanding of the divine feminine while daring to instead illustrate the damned feminine.

Hellbender is weighty and earthy, giving the viewer an instant grasp of a rich lore. This grounding effect is elevated by the tapestry of sound and visuals that the Adams Family is known for. The ancient subject matter is given a rebellious, contemporary streak through pounding rock music and psychedelic visions. Blood, witches, and rock n’ roll. Hellbender is a horror delight that you feel guilty for wanting so badly.

Hellbender held its World Premiere on August 14 at the 2021 Fantasia International Film Festival, with a second screening scheduled for August 16. Prior to its premiere, the film was acquired by Shudder and has an anticipated streaming release in early 2022.

 

Hellbender
  • 7/10
    Rating - 7/10
7/10

TL;DR

Hellbender is weighty and earthy, giving the viewer an instant grasp of a rich lore. This grounding effect is elevated by the tapestry of sound and visuals that the Adams Family is known for. The ancient subject matter is given a rebellious, contemporary streak through pounding rock music and psychedelic visions. Blood, witches, and rock n’ roll. Hellbender is a horror delight that you feel guilty for wanting so badly.