'Hellraiser' (2022) - The Puzzle Box has Been Re-Opened for a New Generation
Updated: Dec 9, 2022
Updating a beloved or iconic horror franchise for modern audiences takes work. With the age of social media, it can be downright abusive, even suggesting a reboot or actor change. Such was the case when it was announced that HULU would be opening the puzzle box once again and unleashing a reimagining of Clive Barker's 1987 classic Hellraiser. David Bruckner (the Night House), who directed one of my favorite movies in the last 5 years, the Ritual, has taken the helm of the project. Writers Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski, also from the Night House, scripted the new iteration. It stars Odessa A'zion (Let's Scare Julie), Adam Faison, Drew Starkey, Goran Visnjic (Dr. Who), and Jamie Clayton (Sense8).
Roland Voight (Visnjic), a sadistic billionaire, acquires a puzzle box from Serbia. After sacrificing an unsuspecting party guest to some sentient chains, it opens another dimension, and he goes missing. Before the titles, it's clear the filmmakers are taking the spirit of Barker's original but making this their Hellraiser. When those chains arrive, the sound design alone sends a chill down your spine and a devilish grin across your face.
Riley (A'Zion) is an addict. She lives with her brother Matt (Brandon Flynn), his boyfriend Colin (Faison), and their roommate Nora (Aoife Hinds). That is until her "He's not my boyfriend" Trevor (Starkey) convinces her to break into a warehouse and steal what's inside for some quick cash. Unfortunately for everyone, what's inside is a familiar-looking puzzle box to which she is drawn. After falling off the wagon, she's kicked out of her house. In a drunken pill-induced haze, she inadvertently unlocks the first puzzle. She dooms her brother when he's accidentally cut by it, making his blood the first offering.
As Colin and Nora want answers for the disappearance of Matt, Riley is having escalating visions and nightmares as more and more people vanish in the presence of the mysterious artifact. As secrets are revealed, alliances are tested, and the Cenobites close in, Riley will have to make an impossible choice. Or become another one of the tortured souls for the demons to play with.
Hellraiser 2022 sets the rules and mythology behind the Lament Configuration so that while it might remove some of the mystery behind the item, it sets a clear motive for those possessing it. Used more of a way to mark your victims than a self-offering tool like in the original. There is also a clear payoff for finishing the Ritual despite knowing what must be done to get there. It was an intelligent choice, and the updated design itself is gorgeous.
Where the 1987 version feels claustrophobic, taking place in one location, Hellraiser 2022 is much more expansive. Having several areas but still seeing the Cenobite dimension breaking through at any given moment opens the world for our characters but adds that level of feeling trapped. Nowhere you run is safe, that is, until the Thirteen Ghost-style remodel of Voight's mansion in the 3rd act.
In the 80s, wearing all-black bondage and dominatrix leather was a shocking image for many; for modern audiences, not so much. The Cenobites have had their look updated as well for Hellraiser 2022. Like the description in the original text, the tortured souls are now outfitted in their own flesh, ripped, and stretched to be visually elegant and horrific. It's a unique costuming choice, but one that sets it apart in its macabre beauty. There is a memorable scene in the conclusion where we get a full-on sequence at the birth of a Cenobite, and it's mesmerizing. Odessa A'zion, as Riley nails the behavior and mannerisms of an addict trying to fill a bottomless pit. Unlikeable, she ultimately wins you over with an unapologetic performance, not by being the hero who slays the beast but by growing and learning from her mistakes. It's a well-thought-out arc that feels earned.
Jamie Clayton takes on the mantle and pins with a more feminine, stoic, and feline quality that makes the character appear more menacing, seductive, and ethereal. You're curious if they want to kiss, enlighten, or skin you alive, creating a festive hat from your kneecaps. Clayton has much more to do in this modern telling than Doug Bradley did in the original film, in both screen time and dialogue, but Pinhead (The Priest) is still a mystery in the end. I was nervous they would overexpose the character too soon, but I didn't once feel that way watching.
David Bruckner and his team have captured the spirit of Clive Barker's story without just re-telling the same tale. I'll be curious to see where they take the series moving forward, as there is a hint of sequel potential in the end. Still, the movie has a satisfying conclusion if this is a one-off. Hellraiser is a movie that sticks with you long after you're finished watching, and the more you think about it, the more you want to re-open that box and take it all in.