Hellraiser is a reboot of Clive Barker’s supernatural horror franchise that revolves around a puzzle box that, when solved, opens a gateway to a horrific realm that’s home to the monstrous and sadistic Cenobites. Generally speaking, the many sequels spawned over the years since the 1987 original have not done the franchise any justice. So while I was looking forward to seeing the reboot, I was also keeping my expectations low. It’s a good thing I did because while I admit 2022’s Hellraiser isn’t a terrible movie, it’s not particularly great either.
It’s been six years since millioniare Roland Voight (Goran Visnjic) tricks a sex worker into solving the mysterious puzzle box, thus giving him an audience with Leviathan – a godlike entity that rules over the hellish realm where the Cenobites exist. We are introduced to Riley (Odessa A’zion), a recovering addict staying with her brother Matt (Brandon Flynn), his boyfriend Colin (Adam Faison), and their roommate Nora (Aoife Hinds).
Riley is convinced by her boyfriend Trevor (Drew Starkey) to break into a warehouse where they discover the puzzle box. Upon solving the first out of multiple configurations of the puzzle box, she inadvertently starts a horrific chain of events that violently claims the souls of those around her as the Cenobites, led by The Priest (Jamie Clayton), AKA Pinhead, come to claim their sacrifices. Riley will need to learn all she can about the Cenobites, the puzzle box and ultimately herself if she is to survive the hellish situation she finds herself in.
The original Hellraiser movies were never the kind you watched if you wanted to see great acting and the same can be said for the reboot. With a pretty average story containing bland characters who you aren’t really rooting for – especially with a protagonist who is essentially a loser with no admirable qualities about her – it would be a hard ask for any actor to give a memorable performance. Even the updated Pinhead, sorry, The Priest, is forgettable in this film.
Which is a shame because the Cenobites are ultimately the characters that fans of the franchise come to see. Nobody really cares about the human characters destined for the hellish meat grinder; we want to see what the newest twisted Cenobite creation is. After all, each new sequel introduced new variants – for better or worse – that were always led by the ever consistent Cenobite posterboy known as Pinhead. But our new Pinhead, known as The Priest, pales in comparison to the original.
With her lack of presence or charisma, her new design takes away the leather/PVC bondage outfits and replacing it with flesh for clothes (this applies to all the new Cenobites), despite an admirable performance from Jamie Clayton. Not helping is a plot that doesn’t really do much with her and you’re left with a character trying very hard to be scary but comes off like a creepy, well crafted animated doll. It’s very disappointing.
The only “character” that stood out and that I enjoyed watching wasn’t even a person. The puzzlebox is the most interesting aspect of the film as it takes on multiple forms and drives the story forward as it marks each new sacrifice with its hidden blade.
I appreciate that director David Bruckner (known mostly for his contributions to horror anthologies) was trying to do something different with this new Hellraiser by changing the Cenobite getup design, but it didn’t work. They don’t look “real” and lack the viscerality of the original characters. You can see a lot of effort went into the detail of the new designs to look monstrous or horrific, but they look like 18+ costumes put over beautiful models trying to look like bondage freaks. The ones whose faces you can see, anyway.
Bruckner also plays very safe with the violence, which is disappointing. There’s some pretty messed up stuff in the early original Hellraiser films and they had a reputation for being disturbingly twisted. Nearly all the deaths in the reboot are tame by comparison, with only one death that actually got my attention as being painfully brutal, visually impressive and worthy of being a real Hellraiser death scene. Everything else is just…meh.
Despite being a well made film from a production perspective, Hellraiser is unlikely to impress fans of the original films due to its uneventful plot, mundane characters, lack of creative deaths, and the less visceral reimagining of the Cenobite design. Those new to the franchise may not care about the changes as much, but they’ll still be subjected to an incredibly average plot and characters that are hard to care about. But it’s on Hulu so at least it won’t cost you a ticket to be unimpressed.