Independent films are very interesting creatures. Their quality greatly varies, and their content can be almost indescribable. Independent filmmakers usually develop a style that they become recognized for after a few series of films, and that’s usually when you can tell if you enjoy the worlds they attempt to bring you into, or if it simply doesn’t vibe with you. Homestyle indie team The Adams Family are a literal family of creatives who decided a few years ago that they wanted to take their love for the genre and elevate themselves from being consumers to being creators. Their most recent film ‘The Deeper You Dig’ was a great success, eventually leading to international distribution and a great word of mouth in the underground world. After a touring circuit last year, they’ve finally presented their newest creation, ‘Hellbender.’
The film begins with a flashback sequence, with a very short and potent vision of a woman being hung in the woods, surrounded by a crowd of onlookers. When the woman is hung, but doesn’t die, she is repeatedly shot until she eventually bursts into flames, flies into the air, and disappears. We then fast forward into present times to meet our main characters.
‘Hellbender’ is about a mother and daughter who live secluded in the woods. The daughter Izzy is told she has an intense illness and that she cannot go into town or interact with other people, leaving her mother as the only member of the 2-person family who can go into town for supplies. Izzy spends her time wandering around the woods, swimming in creeks, and playing in a punk-grunge band in their basement with her mother – the family band is called Hellbender. In between the introductory scenes of Izzy entertaining herself, and the establishing shots of the environment, we see the mother doing strange things in the woods involving eating fungus, cutting herself and drawing with blood, and binding sticks together into ritualistic figures. Through some beautifully surreal imagery, and some nightmarish dream sequences, we realize that the mother is a practicing witch.
The majority of the film is about Izzy abruptly understanding that not only has she been living one giant lie, but she has power that is hungry to be activated. The movie itself covers great detail on their own take of pagan/wiccan folklore with some contemporary ideas that make what seems like a typical set up into being something that has lots of room to breathe and evolve. Once the mother opens up to the daughter, they go on an exploration of what it means to be a Hellbender, how to control it, and the heaviness that comes with wearing such a family crown.
What I absolutely adore about this movie is the combination of the elements that every family member brings to this motion picture. From the absolutely gorgeous cinematography within the woods, to the disturbing and creative nightmare sequences, to the development of the ideas within the story, to the simplistic but effective acting, all the way to the brilliant music composition (which, again, is performed by the family), this film has so much to offer. Other than the fact that there’s really only a handful of characters, the film doesn’t wear its budget on its sleeve. Everything you see, hear, and feel is meticulously created and integrated in such a truly wonderful direction. There is a lot of things that are briefly shown or only implied, but they all prove to be effective. The movie is a lot of fun and has some real interesting set pieces and special effects that made me question how they were pulled off. This family blew my mind with their last film a few years back, and this one is on an entirely different level.
If you are looking for a magical time full of squirm-worthy images, family kineticism, and beautiful forestry, this movie has a lot for you. It isn’t exactly a reinvention of the genre, but it certainly takes the best of what’s come before it and adds it’s own unique contributions that are worthy of the praise and attention they have been garnering. And for what it’s worth, the very last few lines of the movie made me physically howl with laughter. It’s such an awesome time.
“Hellbender” is currently streaming on Shudder.
‘Til Next Time,
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