Written by Donovan Wan
Hellraiser has a long anthology of films under its belt, and this reboot would be the eleventh entry of the franchise. The stories revolve around unknowing victims who tamper with a puzzle box that would summon these pain-seeking demons known as Cenobites, who reward these victims with tortures beyond what is mortally possible. The Cenobites are ruled by this mystical deity of sorts known only as Leviathan, which is a large entity floating in the sky of their dimension that chooses selected individuals to transform into Cenobites. And the most iconic Cenobite of them all is Pinhead, who is the powerful high priestess that carries out Leviathan’s tasks.
The film’s protagonist is a troubled youth named Riley, whose life is falling apart when the puzzle box falls into her hands. This sets off a horrifying chain reaction of deaths of those closest to her as she tries to find out how to stop this madness whilst finding a method to bring her brother back from the Cenobites. In a certain sense, it would feel as if Riley is the antagonist of the film. Riley’s self-destructive behavior makes the Cenobites’ philosophy more sensible than her series of bad decisions that ultimately leads to many unnecessary deaths.
With Riley’s substance abuse lifestyle, the meaning behind this interaction with Cenobites prove to be a manifestation of her life choices. Pinhead preaches that Cenobites are “Explorers in the further regions of experience”, just like how Riley turns to alcohol and drugs to get away from her own responsibilities. They are mirrors of each other, and this interaction between them may be a moment of self-reflection for Riley to finally get her life back in order.
The film expounds on the lore and world of these Cenobites well with its production design, making the transition between the real world and Leviathan’s domain, known as The Labyrinth, believable and grounded in reality. It feels like the film Dark City (1998) directed by Alex Proyas where there are beings that possess the ability to bend reality, where buildings distort and change according to their will. The film does this very well without the use of CGI, and instead relies on set design and practical effects which make the scenes much more unnerving. The progression from reality to The Labyrinth creates this sense of hopelessness, for the blending of both makes it hard for anyone to distinguish one from the other.
The puzzle box’s design helps elevate the film’s pacing – it has changed from the old design of a demented Rubik’s Cube to an ever-changing puzzle box that symbolises a different configuration. The Lament Configuration box has six different configurations, and with its completion of its final form there would be a reward from Leviathan. The one who solves the puzzle box will get to choose one of the six types of reward that is provided, much like a data plan. Every time a different configuration is solved, the box would release a sharp edge to draw blood of the chosen person to be sacrificed to the Labyrinth and tortured for eternity. Not the limitless data plan you would want, but to these Cenobites they feel that they are giving good service to the chosen victims.
The level of gore in this film is not for the faint of heart, with the use of practical effects making it all the more harder to watch. But yet the look of the Cenobites is beautiful as it is grotesque, with piercings and body mutilations that are so intricately designed that one would think it as a fashion trend. There is an interesting assortment of shiny jewelry like the pins and torture contraptions on the Cenobites that juxtapose the wounds all over their bodies, that instead of being just scary demons they actually have some sort of status or rank.
The reboot of Hellraiser is a refreshing take on the world of Leviathan, with Cenobites lurking in the shadows waiting to collect the flesh of those who play with the Lament Configuration Box. This film is a worthy installment in the franchise, and should satisfy those seeking to know more about its lore. Please do not watch this during lunch break or with the family; neither is this your typical date night movie.
This review is published as part of *SCAPE’s Film Critics Lab: A Writing Mentorship Programme organised by The Filmic Eye, with support from the Singapore Film Society and Sinema.
About the Author: Donovan Wan studied Film at the School of Art, Design and Media. He spends his free time freelancing on shoots and doing voice overs for commercials. He is an aspiring cinematographer and hopes to continue making short films or perhaps a feature someday.
About the Movie:
Directed by: David Bruckner
Cast: Jamie Clayton, Drew Starkey, Odessa A’zion, Brandon Flynn, Aoife Hinds, Jason Liles, Yinka Olorunnife
Synopsis: A young woman must confront the sadistic, supernatural forces behind an enigmatic puzzle box responsible for her brother’s disappearance.
Hellraiser is released exclusively on Hulu.