This is my personal review of the new Hellraiser (2022) movie. I think it’s great; let me tell you why.
The plot is good. Our protagonist Riley, a recovering drug addict, comes across the puzzle box, a magical and dangerous artifact of unknown origin. She inevitably messes with it and summons the Cenobites, other-worldly beings obsessed with sensation and experience that want to share these gifts with others. Of course, these aren’t gifts at all, but acts of torture and death. She accidentally exposes her brother to the Cenobites’ proclivities and spends the rest of the movie trying to get him back.
The story relays how the box ended up in her hands, and what other actors are at work behind the scenes. It leads up to two different conclusions, a reveal on what Riley will finally decide in determining her brother’s fate, and a reveal on what happens to the mysterious background figure.
The reveals are great because they genuinely address the most important things that the viewers want to see resolved in the movie. However, this is the type of movie that somewhat relies on the mysterious, and so it may keep certain things hidden at the price of not making sense. That’s pretty par for the course for the Hellraiser franchise.
The characters are done well, but they could have been even more defined. We get their personality, but certain parts of their identities are never revealed. Just how much hardship does Riley’s addiction cause her? Why do she and her brother hate each other? Where does Nora come from and why should we care about her? (I literally had to look up her name online because she wasn’t memorable at all.) We can make inferences about these characters, but it seems like the movie really didn’t feel like fleshing them out.
Riley is kind of weak as a protagonist. She never had a commanding presence, even when she started being proactive against the troubles around her. Voight had a great arc, but he was underplayed.
While the original Hellraiser is no thrill fest, it had a reasonable number of occurrences happening at regular intervals. Unfortunately, this movie is a little longer than the original, and sometimes it suffers for it. I was pretty worried at the beginning that this movie would be filled with drama padding of no real substance, like the later Hellraiser sequels. Luckily, by the second half of the movie, the plot starts to pick up and it starts coming together.
The atmosphere is good. It’s not over the top and stylized, but grounded in reality. It can get distracting in movies when it is always dark and you wonder if the characters actually live in the real world. This movie gets dark and dour, but only when it needs to be.
The music is MOSTLY in background and stays out of the way. In a horror movie, that’s not the worst thing. Later, the music crescendos into the original movie’s theme during a big part, and it’s great. On the other hand, the bells that toll during the arrival of the Cenobites didn’t feel very impactful compared to the bells of the original movie.
This movie is not particularly scary, per se. It doesn’t provide the edge of your seat anticipation when the monster is just around the corner. However, this is not your typical scary movie, this is a body horror movie. So the horror comes from the grotesque, not the fear.
The Cenobites shown blurred in the background was a good choice, but the initial reveal of them could've been more subtle so at least the first time we see them would be frightening. And for a movie relying on gore, there could’ve been just a little bit more of it. One more scene would’ve worked.
The big city is a perfect place for themes of addiction. Roland Voight's mansion perfectly represents the sacred geometry of the Cenobites, the affluence of the power elite, with hints of their decadence. It is such a perfect location for the final showdown with the Cenobites without feeling forced at all.
This movie seems to use practical effects, so relieved. If they aren’t practical, then I couldn’t tell the difference. As cool and creepy as the stop motion effects were in the original, you can see how dated they are. The gore looks true to life in this movie.
I give this interpretation of Pinhead aka The Hell Priest a perfect score. Note that this is such a far departure from the Doug Bradley Pinhead, but that in no way diminishes the character. While clearly not the same, the differences are superficial or arbitrary. Jamie Clayton’s voice is ethereal and haunting, not deep and monstrous. It manages to be the same amount of unnerving though.
Clayton looks androgynous and owns it, just like Bradley owned his dominating presence. It’s arbitrary to the character, but actually fits in better with Barker's original conception of the character.
Pinhead walks the line between an objective arbiter of sense experience and a gleeful sadist. Don’t forget that the Bradley Pinhead was also willing to bend a few rules in order to trap innocent mortals. Despite that, this Pinhead remains true Lawful Evil. They never go beyond the tenets of their unknowable doctrine. They take the objects of their mark, and ONLY the objects of their mark. Pinhead doesn't steal the show as a character with ambitions, just a force of nature–the way a Cenobite should be.
I was able to understand the characters' emotions without them spelling it out for me. I never questioned any of the characters' reactions or responses, they all were completely sensible.
For some reason, the director mentioned that this is not a reboot, but a continuation of the original franchise. However, there are definite changes in the lore which preclude this and the original from being in the same universe. That being said, the changes don’t do anything to corrupt the themes and symbolism. This is still a Hellraiser movie at its heart, and I can’t even say that for many of the later sequels of the original franchise. If anything, the changes make this franchise even better
One change is that the box is no longer called Lament Configuration, Now it is simply referred to as the puzzle box, and “Lament” is merely one of the configurations it can be transformed into. While Hellraiser fans have always used its proper name, it was always colloquially known in the zeitgeist as the puzzle box, so this difference is not a big deal. It is still a mysterious artifact with unknowable powers. Whether or not it will eventually take on its true name as the Lamarchand Box is something to speculate on…
Also, now there are five different specific configurations of the box. Before, there were a few arbitrary configurations in the sequence to solving it. It now gives a purpose behind the different stages and explains the meaning behind them. These different configurations are one of the most intriguing things about the new franchise. While they give some explanation where we never saw it before, they also provide a bunch of new questions. I plan on writing a blog on the configurations and the themes behind them in my next blog
One of the things that remains the same are the Cenobites. They are still “explorers in the further reaches of experience.” In fact, this movie actually reverts them to their former mysterious roles. In the more recent Hellraiser sequels, and even in Barker’s literary return to Hellraiser, the Cenobites became trite denizens of the Christian hell. It is certainly refreshing to get to see their original interpretations again. More lore has been added to them as well. This movie slightly covers how and why Cenobites are created when that was never fully explained before. It still leaves a lot of mystery to touch on later if they ever decide to go there.
The themes of this movie are the best part. Themes are weird in that you don’t necessarily perceive them as you are watching a movie. However, they are there in the background, planting seeds in your brain, making you think about things you’ve always had interest in, or making you wonder about things you never thought about before. The themes of this movie are varied and deep and I will not be able to cover them all in this blog entry. I will be addressing them in my next blog. They have to do specifically with the different configurations of the puzzle box.
There are some more surface-level themes though. Riley deals with addiction, Voight deals with apathy. There’s the theme of how addiction hurts the ones you love. I’ll touch on that more later. Of course there is physical torment as well as psychological. There’s living in the unfeeling shadow of a big city. And the classic “learning from your mistakes and maybe becoming a better person.”
This movie also deals with the “absurdity of justice.”--about how the victims of the Cenobites are people that don’t necessarily deserve a bad fate, but receive it anyway. That’s probably the main theme of the Hellraiser films, in my opinion. At least the good ones. Post modernism would have you believe that there is no justice, and that any fate you receive is just as likely as anything else that happens to you.
As gruesome as the Hellraiser movies are, I feel they are anti-post modern. They demonstrate just how horrible it would be to live in a world where you are condemned for an accident of curiosity.