“Like a Stuart Gordon film but shot through the more manic lens of a Sam Raimi or Joe Dante”

This film was screened as part of the Nightstream virtual film festival, which runs from October 8th-October 11. Find more details about the festival here.

Bloody Hell is a tricky film to write about. Not because I’m not sure what to say about it, or have conflicted feelings. But because it is a movie that I feel benefits from viewing with as little information as possible. It’s not a movie that is especially twisty; there is not some huge revelation that would spoil the experience if you knew going in. But there are small moments that benefit from you being caught off guard. Specifically, there is a reveal at the start of the film second act that is so masterfully executed, to even hint at it would be a disservice to a wonderful bit of filmmaking. The moment is even teased (though not fully explored) in the trailer, so trust me when I say: go in as blind as you can. Other than reading the rest of this review. Naturally.

What is safe to say without giving too much away is what little I knew going in: Ben O’Toole plays Rex Coen, a Boise, Idaho native who finds himself distressingly famous after he thwarted a group of violent bank robbers, only to be sentenced to eight years in prison for the accidental death of a bystander. Coming out of prison, Rex finds himself suddenly something of a viral celebrity, especially in his hometown, but he wants nothing to do with the massive public interest he has generated. He decides to get away until his momentary fame dies down, and randomly selects Helsinki as his point of escape. Once he gets there however, he is kidnapped by a reclusive, cult-like family who hold him hostage in the basement for their nefarious needs. The majority of the film is Rex attempting to convince reluctant family member Alia (Meg Fraser in her debut feature) to help him escape.

Bloody Hell comes from Australian director Alister Grierson based on a script by Robert Benjamin. Grierson is a director who has shown a lot of technical prowess, but not really settled into an authorial voice in his past work. In Bloody Hell, he has an avenue to play looser and more wild than his previous, more restrained films and really benefits from it; Bloody Hell truly feels like a Stuart Gordon film but shot through the more manic lens of a Sam Raimi or Joe Dante. The premise is small, focusing on the extremely personal stakes of Rex not wanting to die, but the amplification of that is set to high volume, giving the whole movie an outsized, almost cartoonish shape that makes it a lot of fun to live in. For a horror-thriller, it isn’t especially scary, but it does have enough shocking moments that elicit big reactions to make for a throwback piece that will appeal to horror fans of things like Troma or Blue Moon productions.

The other real force that keeps Bloody Hell moving is O’Toole. He is technically playing a dual role, as he’s both Rex and Rex’s embodied inner voice, which pushes him through canny observations and deductions to assist in his bid for survival. Imagine if Sherlock Holmes had a second, mouthier Sherlock Holmes who helped him solve crimes. That’s the effect here. Rex’s full backstory is not entirely explored, but bits of his narrative are dropped throughout organically; the times when this inner voice has cropped up, the various traumas he has gone through, what past experiences make him a danger to those who threaten him. It is not an especially deep portrait of a character; he reminds of past horror heroes such as Evil Dead’s Ash. But O’Toole’s lively and charismatic performance, despite some histrionics, makes the audience root for him that much more.

The other performers in the film fall into the “good enough” category, game performances that hit the marks of horror tropes that a throwback shocker like this asks for. Fraser is asked to carry the most work behind O’Toole, and while she never wows as the wide-eyed, conflicted innocent of the family, she certainly doesn’t drop the ball. She executes what the film asks of her, and she and O’Toole have enough chemistry to make their scenes work. One scene in particular (the details of which would give too much away) actively plays with the juxtaposition of flirtatious attraction and gruesome surroundings.

The biggest fault of the film is it’s final act, which feels rushed and sudden enough to not have space to breathe a full sense of catharsis. The movie is very good at raising stakes throughout, but when it comes down to a final confrontation, that tension is alleviated too quickly and too cleanly. The final death of the film is creative and gnarly, but the pacing lets the steam out just a bit too quickly when you want to have it pay out somewhat longer. However, this is mostly just disappointing in contrast, as everything up to that point has been hilarious, macabre fun.

Bloody Hell is most confident when it is joking around; it doesn’t take it’s horror especially seriously, which is not to say that it’s aim is irony or sarcasm. It simply knows that it is a big, broad horror movie with a down the center premise and doesn’t shy away from acknowledging that. It is both self-aware and sincere with it’s tone, and thus is inviting you to laugh with it’s ridiculousness rather than at it. It’s a slightly more modern bend on classic tropes that welcomes you into its ridiculousness. If you’re looking for throwback, campy horror, you could do far worse.

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