By GRACE DETWILER
Starring Odessa A’zion, Jamie Clayton, and Adam Faison
Written by Luke Piotrowski and Ben Collins
Directed by David Bruckner
Central to the philosophy of Hellraiser (1987) is Pinhead’s iconic claim that he and the other Cenobites are “explorers, in the further regions of experience. Demons to some, angels to others.” While HELLRAISER (2022) recycles this line and others from the original film, it fails to follow through on Clive Barker’s intention in writing it. Unfortunately for protagonist Riley and her group of friends, the new Cenobites have nothing to offer their victims but pointless pain and suffering.
Hellraiser gets both its mythology and aesthetic from a conflation of sadomasochism and religious iconography. The character name for the being we call Pinhead is, in fact, “The Priest” or “The Hell Priest,” and the god Pinhead serves is referred to as “Leviathan.” Not unlike 2008’s Martyrs, Hellraiser suggests that the torture endured by the Cenobites and their victims allows them to experience a kind of spiritual transcendence or ecstasy. Pinhead and the Lament Configuration are a pointedly neutral force in Barker’s incarnation of Hellraiser, wielded by human beings who are the true villains of the story. However, HELLRAISER (2022) conceptualizes the Cenobites as nothing more than demons who wish to make mankind suffer all the pain that hell has to offer.
For HELLRAISER (2022), director David Bruckner (The Ritual) reunites with his The Night House screenwriting team of Luke Piotrowski and Ben Collins (Super Dark Times) to craft a reimagining of the original film from horror master and writer/director Clive Barker. In the time between these two Hellraisers, there have been a plethora of straight-to-video sequels that were largely unsuccessfully with critics and audience members alike. Piotrowski and Collins’ screenplay attempts to update the film’s messaging around sensation-seeking by telling a cautionary tale about addiction, embodied by the characters of Riley (Odessa A’zion) and Trevor (Drew Starkey) – who are said to have met in addiction recovery. Like the drugs Riley abuses – the film concludes – the Cenobites will only bring pain, rather than the pleasure they promise.
Bruckner’s Cenobites trade the leather and kink influences of their 1987 counterparts for even more extreme mutilation of the flesh – emphasizing the new Cenobites’ focus on sheer pain and torture, with little pleasure to speak of. It is unclear in HELLRAISER ‘22 what would attract a figure like the film’s antagonist Voight (Goran Visnjicto) to summon the Cenobites in the first place. Unlike Frank and Julia from Hellraiser ‘87, Voight does not seem to enjoy what the Cenobites put him through as a “reward” for the five human sacrifices he makes to them. Bruckner’s HELLRAISER appears to misunderstand the pleasure in pain itself; the sadomasochistic ideology that pervades Barker’s original is nowhere to be seen. When Voight is initially “rewarded” with a perpetual torture machine embedded in his chest, he finds no pleasure in it whatsoever, as Frank or Julia may have.
Potentially useful to the film’s ultimate message about addiction, the Lament Configuration was previously presented as a last resort turned to by people who have exhausted the experience of earthly delights, and wish to seek out more extreme physical sensations. Yet HELLRAISER presents the Cenobites as little more than monsters who use the puzzle box as a means to lure unsuspecting victims in, erasing the agency of those who interact with it. Oddly enough, Riley’s addiction plays no role in her interactions with the Cenobites. She only plays their game in the hope of resurrecting her brother, who was sacrificed by accident, summoning Pinhead (Jamie Clayton) and her legion.
Bruckner’s film presents the Cenobites as malevolent and deceitful, rather than as supernatural beings who grant exactly what is asked for by the one who solves the puzzle box. A user of the newfangled Lament Configuration is merely tempted by a false promise of life, love, knowledge, sensation, resurrection, or power – which the Cenobites will then manifest in the most horrific manner imaginable. HELLRAISER seems to put the angel/demon debate to rest; Cenobites are demons, full stop, motivated by un-nuanced sadism.
HELLRAISER (2022) is available now to stream on Hulu.