I am skeptical whenever there is talk about film rebooting the Hellraiser franchise. I am a big fan of the 1987 film, giving a genuinely horrifying take on Hell and how far people would go for selfish ends, but beyond that and its sequel, the series has had some unfortunate entries. When I heard David Bruckner—the director of 2020s The Night House—would be taking a stab at the franchise, I was hopeful Hellraiser would get the attention it needs. With it now out on Hulu, I can say this is the best take on the series since the first film and one of the better horror films of 2022.
Riley (Odessa A’Zion) is a recovering addict and finds herself living with her loving but overly protective brother Matt (Brandon Flynn), his boyfriend Colin (Adam Faison), and their roommate Nora (Aoife Hinds). All living in a single apartment, tensions are high, and she isn’t able to pull her weight with the costs of living.
When her new boyfriend Trevor (Drew Starkey) suggests a big score, Riley jumps at the chance. With the prospects of striking rich off the contents of a left-behind shipping container in an abandoned warehouse, Riley and Trevor stumble upon a mysterious puzzle box. Now in possession of an ancient puzzle that is filled with secrets, the simple act of trying to solve it will lead to horrifying realities.
Once the process is started, things can’t be turned back, and as Riley starts to see disturbing images and her brother goes missing, she quickly loses grip on what is real and imaginary. With the box linked to a series of deaths at the hands of art collector and occultist Roland Voight (Goran Visnjic), she quickly finds herself in over her head. Exploring dark rituals, a missing millionaire, journals detailing rituals, and the strange beings known as the cenobites, Riley and her friends look to stop the hellish disappearances and get to the truth of what is going on.
“The practical effects in Hellraiser 2022 are some of the best the series has seen…”
While things start slow, giving the audience time to get to know Riley, Bruckner does a great job setting the stage for the horrendous events that are soon to come. The cenobites are teased in small doses, only giving a glimpse at how twisted these creatures from hell are, with each new encounter giving a better look at how these sadistic creatures function and what dark purpose is behind all their actions.
The practical effects in Hellraiser 2022 are some of the best the series has seen, capturing the look and feel of the many atrocities taking place in visceral detail. The ancient puzzle box is also much more active this outing, with it taking on many forms, all filled with purpose and ways to strike out against the people that dare to try and solve it. This is a new take on Clive Barker’s universe, but one that feels true in spirit to the original, giving a taste of the world resting in wait for those who dare to crave pleasure above all else.
Making Riley an addict and having a large part of the first act dealing with her addiction paints her as an unreliable narrator. As an audience, we know what is going on, but even with this knowledge, I found myself questioning how much of what she sees is real and how much was in her mind.
Thankfully Bruckner plays with this, unravelling the story in a way that feels earned, with each new fragment of knowledge slowly letting us in on the grander design. Hellraiser has always been about far more than just an excuse to summon the cenobites to the screen to scare watchers. It works as a hard look at morality, love and obsession that goes far beyond simple jump scares.
There is plenty of gore and many things that will unsettle viewers, but unlike in past entries where the world always felt unclean and scummy in some ways, Bruckner opts for a more cold, industrial world and setting. You will still find plenty of bloody chains and human flesh contorted in new and unpleasant ways, but it now feels colder and more of an inevitability. The 1987 horror classic has stood the test of time for a reason, so it is good to see this remake take a new approach, one that feels new but just as terrifying.
The real stand out of Hellraiser 2022 has to be Jamie Clayton as The Priest and cenobite leader. Unlike what Doug Bradley did with Pinhead, this new take on the character feels crueller and more sensual in her actions, revelling in each new kill in a way all her own. She brings demonic glee to the screen, with each new kill another way to push the limits on how the human form can be distorted. Despite the changes, Clayton’s performance feels a part of the Hellraiser universe, with this standing alongside the 1987 original rather than just another lazy horror remake.
The creature design is as unique as it is horrifying and avoids the pitfalls of feeling like another slasher flick in a sea of mediocrity. The cenobites feel refreshed for this reboot, pushing aside the black leather for a fetishistic use of flesh and skin as clothing. Each of the creatures feels nightmarish in their own way, with each showing a new sadomasochistic way you can flay a human into a new, gruesome form.
This movie goes significantly further than in Clive Barker’s 1987 horror classic or the novella it is based on but does so in a refreshing way that never feels far off from what the franchise is known for. I am also happy to see the use of CGI was kept to a minimum, opting to build the spooky creatures with tangible screen effects whenever possible.
With strong source material to draw from, and a new take on the nightmarish puzzle box, David Bruckner pushes past the problems many horror reboots face, delivering an unsettling journey into darkness. There have been a few attempts at a Hellraiser reboot, but few captured the essence of the story first adapted by Clive Barker himself. This story about a former addict goes places that make you question your morality, and does so with style, attention to detail, and a love of the source material. In a horror franchise known for disappointingly bad sequels, Hellraiser 2022 is a breath of fresh air, and a journey into madness well worth its 121-minute runtime.