Directors (and writers): John Adams, Zelda Adams, Toby Poser
Cast: Zelda Adams, Toby Poser, Lulu Adams, John Adams, Rinzin Thonden
A lonely teen discovers her family’s ties to witchcraft. – IMDB
Suitably after watching a folk horror documentary, Hellbender is the next movie on the Fantasia Festival rundown. Hellbender is a 2021 horror coming of age film following Izzy, a lonely and isolated teenager who lives with her mother in the mountains where they have a two person band H6llb6nd6r and keep to themselves as Izzy is said to have an illness where she can’t be around others since the age of five. However, Izzy wanders out and meets a new friend that introduces her to others and as she breaks from norms, it awakens something in her.
Following 2019’s The Deeper You Dig (which I unfortunately missed), Hellbender is the second film by the Adams Family. This is not a pure horror as it isn’t exactly the typical sort of scary but rather its imagery is can be fairly eerie and unsettling as the witchcraft and occult elements of the film slowly appear. This is a rather fresh take of witchcraft in horror as it takes the angle of a mother trying to protect her daughter and yet, it quickly becomes apparent that things are absolutely not what it seems. The setting itself also adds to the feeling of isolation and loneliness albeit its beautiful scenery in the mountainous area that they reside. It further emphasizes on the whole concept they keep mentioning about the cycle of seasons. Whether in terms of imagery or sound design, Hellbender has a lot of elements that give it a haunting feeling.
Hellbender isn’t completely a horror film though. It has many elements of a coming-of-age as Izzy slowly breaks out of lonely and isolate routine and learns about the witchcraft that runs in her family from her mother. As she discovers more about her own powers and possibly emphasizing why her mother decided to keep her away from others to protect her daughter but also everyone else, the growth of Izzy’s character is a fascinating one as all comes crashing into a fantastic ending that isn’t just visually atmospheric but also incredibly exhilarating to watch. Coming-of-age comes with its own tensions and in terms of the mother-daughter relationship, there is a sense of change throughout.
Hellbender is a rather unique horror film revolving around the occult and witchcraft. The story blends different elements together that makes it both a visually atmospheric film but also a decently fun watch. There are some slight pacing issues mostly with its middle act which seems to a drag a little bit however, the film starts and ends in an absolutely engaging way. Aside from the sound design mentioned above, Hellbender also has a great soundtrack. A lot of it comes from the band movies between the mother and daughter but the music does play throughout which adds to the film experience as well.
*Hellbender had its world premiere on August 14th at Fantasia Film Festival. It has an encore virtual screening on August 16th at 9:00am EST. Check out more info HERE.*