By DAKOTA DAHL
Starring Sarah T. Cohen, Ryan Davies and Adrian Bouchet
Written by Jordan Rockwell and Michele Pacitto
Directed by Scott Jeffrey, Rebecca Matthews and Michael Hoad
Wild Eye Releasing/Uncork’d Entertainment
I am constantly ranting about how the world needs more horror & martial arts crossovers. It’s such a ludicrous mix that when it gets put together well, you end up with a genre clashing work of low-brow art like Mortal Kombat, Blade or the classic Mr. Vampire. Of course, whenever I tell people this, I’m told I’m “holding up the line at the drive-through” or that they “can’t fit all that in the obituary.” So, when I finally got the chance to review a genuine demonic MMA film, I jumped at the chance, and somehow, even when my expectations are so low that I enjoy films like Silent Rage, I was disappointed, as HELLKAT is mostly nonsense filler and poorly directed quasi-gymnastics.
The film ostensibly follows Katrina ‘HellKat’ Bash (Sarah T. Cohen) who is in a downward spiral after a devastating defeat in the ring. The losses don’t stop there for Bash (why did she need a second nickname when the name Bash is already awesome?) since her home life is a wreck, drinking and smoking herself into a literal hellhole after the death of her child. She kills herself in her grief, and ends up in hell, which is a bit of a spoiler but the marketing campaign kind of made it clear, so whatever.
Hell is rife with urban decay, and most of it just looks like slimy alleys and crustpunk bars. After Bash finally figures out what is actually going on (a lot faster than Bruce Willis in The Sixth Sense, so kudos to her) she is approached by a scene-stealing cheeseball demon named Jimmy Scott (Ryan Davies) who likes to make people fight to their super-death for the entertainment of underworld crowds. If Hellkat (fine, I’ll call her that once) can survive wave after wave of creatures, she will earn her way out of Hell, and Jimmy also promises to bring her kid back to life. Not the worst deal, better than working retail.
There are a few other human contestants, but they have all the charisma of a punching bag, so they’re names aren’t that important, and thinking back on it, might not have even been said. They each bring their own fighting styles to the ring, which is lazily a genuine boxing ring, since the set designer couldn’t be bothered to think of something more visually dynamic to represent a hellscape. No biggie, it’s just film, a visual medium, after all. But It’s the “demonic” opponents where things begin to really come apart design-wise. Each monster is monstrous only in the face (with sometimes cool, sometimes unconvincing fright masks) while their average torsos are uncovered. It’s understandable that perhaps fighting in a full costume would be difficult, but not going that extra mile just makes the whole theme fly apart, especially when a werewolf character looks like he just has someone’s back hair gorilla-glued to his face.
After establishing these less than intimidating foes, the humans show off some somewhat impressive martial arts which are depressingly short and confusingly edited. The actual athleticism of the athletes gets robbed of all impact by frantic cuts and lackluster framing, making the action conceptually impressive yet lacking immersion. Most egregiously robbed is incredibly talented stunt performer Corinne Holt, who plays the body double for Cohen. It’s written into the script (though never explained) that Bash wears a mask when she fights, which is such a transparent way for HELLKAT to just sub in Holt for the more physically demanding scenes.
Criticism of the film’s action doesn’t fall on the actors and stunt doubles. It’s clear that they all have incredible skills that are poorly showcased, because of both the clumsy script which doesn’t allocate enough room for impressive fight scenes and by the jumpy directing which never stays on a shot long enough to allow an impressive feat of physicality to actually impress.
You’d think when the artistic vision of Hell gets boiled down to a fog machine on a red-lit boxing ring, the filmmakers would make up for it elsewhere, but HELLKAT doesn’t deliver on the MMA or the monsters, lingering more on schmaltzy human drama and hammy demonic exposition. The bar is low for good horror and martial arts crossovers, and HELLKAT, in its single impressive feat, manages to limbo right under it.
HELLKAT hits On Demand, DVD, and Digital February 2nd, 2021 from Wild Eye Releasing and Uncork’d Entertainment.