Family affair

Hellbender Review – Trippy Folk Horror Takes on a Family Affair | Film

SSixteen-year-old Izzy (Zelda Adams) lives in a house in the woods with her mother (Toby Poser) where she is homeschooled because she has an autoimmune disease that makes her vulnerable to infections from other people. That and the fact that mother and child are witch-like creatures called masters of hell who live for many decades, feed mainly on cones of moss and seeds, and reproduce asexually like ferns. . But they’re happy together most of the time: they have a mini punk band, in which Izzy plays drums (she’s pretty good), mom plays mean bass, and they sing songs about apocalypse and murder while wearing makeup. It’s unclear exactly how they buy gas or pay for new spikes and drumsticks when needed, but perhaps the money is raised from hikers who accidentally wander onto their dirt and get sprayed by the supernatural powers of the mother, as does an unfortunate stranger played by John Adams.

The power dynamics change in this Rapunzel-like setup when Izzy meets another teenage, regular sort named Amber (Lulu Adams) who happens to be the niece of a recently dusted-off backpacker mom. Through Amber, she meets other teenagers and begins to wonder if the isolation she’s been kept in all this time was strictly necessary. Eating a worm on a dare leads Izzy to realize she has supernatural powers that grow stronger if she consumes another creature’s life force. Soon she wants to go to town on her own, ditch their vegetarian diet and build a meaty tunnel in the basement, much like a huge vagina or throat, in which to eat her prey. Children, they grow up so fast!

Although made on a shoestring budget, this highly original exercise in folk horror punches well above its weight with catchy dialogue, trippy visual effects, and impressive camerawork. But the sweetest thing is that it’s a family affair: John Adams and Toby Poser are married; Zelda and Lula Adams are their children. All took turns working on the team when not in a scene, a working method the clan developed in their early feature films, Halfway to Zen and Rumblestrips. The Adams family turned this into lockdown; it’s a pretty impressive family business considering most of us have barely managed to get our own kids interested in board games.

Hellbender is available February 24 on Shudder.