The original Hellraiser explored the outer limits of pleasure and pain in fascinating, grotesque ways. Hulu’s 2022 reimagining of the Clive Barker classic, however, is simply painful. It takes the most surface-level aspects of the original story and gnarls them into a bloated, forgettable modern horror slog that fumbles the series’ mythology.
In broad strokes, the movie follows a bunch of supremely annoying twentysomethings as they run from an otherworldly evil, screaming at each other incessantly in an ear-splitting attempt to suss out what’s happening to them at any given moment. They act like complete idiots, and it’s incredibly hard to root for or relate to any of them when they’re perpetually in the throes of a screechy temper tantrum or complete emotional breakdown.
The connection to the original film is the lore, which revolves around the Cenobites, a group of horrifically mutilated beings whose entire existence is dedicated to pushing the boundaries of sensation, which often involves insanely painful torture devices and rituals. To them, pain is pleasure, so when a group of young people summons them via an elaborate puzzle box, they arrive to dole out some sweet, sweet suffering as a gift from the beyond.
Leading the group of Gen Z-ers is Riley (Odessa A’zion), a struggling addict whose only lifeline is her protective brother Matt (Brandon Flynn). When the siblings have a falling out, Riley runs to her sketchy boyfriend Trevor (Drew Starkey), who enlists her help in stealing the aforementioned cosmic puzzle box. When the Cenobites are summoned, it marks the start of a deadly ritual in which the lives of many are sacrificed for the supreme ascension of a single soul into BDSM nirvana.
The fatal flaw of the film is that the characters are almost exclusively douchey and dumb, treating each other like trash to the point where they can’t even say “I love you” without being overly aggressive. Every dialogue exchange sounds like a shared panic attack. It seems that the intent here was to instill a sense of hysteria and paranoia in the audience via the characters’ frenetic behavior, but it ultimately just ends up being annoying.
The movie’s human villain is a cursed (in more ways than one) billionaire named Voight (Goran Visnjic), and he’s one of the picture’s few bright spots. When it’s fully revealed, his plight is actually pretty interesting and reflective of the extremes of modern excess. Visnjic is similarly captivating when he’s onscreen, and it’s a shame he wasn’t included more. His mansion is another highlight, an enormous set with switches, hidden doors, and a badass-looking skylight, which serves as one of the film’s only lasting images.
Hellraiser as a franchise would be nothing without its iconic Cenobite character designs, however, and this winds up being the 2022 iteration’s greatest strength. The artists, designers, and costumers deserve a lot of credit for their updated aesthetics. Pinhead/The Priest (Jamie Clayton) is also a worthy successor to the original Pinhead performance, which was so memorably created by Doug Bradley. Clayton isn’t nearly as frightening, but there’s a magnetism to her that fits the Cenobite credo. Another standout is the Chatterer, (Jason Liles), whose exposed chompers are the stuff of nightmares.
As impressive as this menagerie of freaks looks, it’s sad that they’re shot in such an uninteresting way, with full-frame views aplenty rendering them less scary and more silly at times. Director David Bruckner (The Night House) seems to be interested in the mythos and philosophical quandaries of the original more so than its cinematic virtues, which proves to be a detriment here. What’s missing is the mystique, suspense, deliberate pace, and narrative tightness that Barker nailed so well with a fraction of the budget.
There’s no reason that a remade Hellraiser needs to follow the original beat for beat. This 2022 iteration is a completely different story than what we saw in the original 1987 film, and that’s absolutely fine. But it would have been a much better movie had it taken the essential elements of the original and told the new story in the same spirit instead of focusing on a soulless, convoluted maze of a plot that, beyond all of the chains and flayed body parts, doesn’t feel like Hellraiser at all.